Alimony in Pennsylvania-  A Brief Overview

What is Alimony?

Alimony is a system of ongoing payments made by one spouse to another after the divorce is complete.    It is a remedial remedy,  the purpose of which  is not to reward one party and to punish the other, but rather to ensure that the reasonable needs of the person who is unable to support himself or herself through appropriate employment, are met.  In a  case called Pullett v. Pullett, the  Pennsylvania Superior Court said that  “alimony is based upon the reasonable needs in accordance with the lifestyle and standard of living established by the parties during the marriage, as well as the payor’s ability to pay.”

What is Alimony Pendent Lite and how is it different from Alimony?

In addition to alimony, payors  in family court  also can find themselves asked for alimony pendent lite.   Because the terms are so similar, alimony and alimony pendent lite or APL, often are confused.  They are different.  APL is awarded before the divorce—or during the pendency of the divorce—and the purpose is to allow both parties equal footing to pursue the divorce proceedings.  Alimony is paid, if at all, after the divorce is final.     If APL is paid during the pendency of the divorce however, some parties will ask for a credit for the payment of the APL toward an alimony award.   In the 2016, Pullett case, the Court made clear the distinction between the purpose of the two types of payments and upheld an award  to Wife of 4 years of alimony at $1000 a month after Husband (in a lengthy divorce proceeding) already had paid APL  of $1050. monthly for more than 10 years.

When is Alimony Appropriate

In Pennsylvania the right to alimony upon divorce is not automatic.   Because, it is based upon reasonable needs, alimony is considered a secondary remedy, and the factors determining the right to it and the amount and duration are determined by statutory factors that can be found at 23 Pa C.S.A. § 3701(b).  Unless  alimony is agreed to between the parties, , a judge must consider numerous factors including the parties’ earnings, and earning capacities,  income sources, mental and physical conditions, contributions to the earning power of the other, educations, standard of living during the marriage the contributions of the spouse as a homemaker, and the duration of the marriage.   More recently, as noted above, in considering alimony Pennsylvania courts take into consideration the reasonable needs of the parties, and alimony will be awarded as a way to achieve  economic justice if this is not possible through the rest of the equitable distribution process.

If Alimony is Awarded What Conditions are Important?

Among   things to consider when asking for – or paying–alimony  are the

           amount, duration, and termination conditions of the award;   The amount  and duration of alimony  can vary, based upon the factors mentioned above;  will  take into consideration reasonable needs;  and not infrequently might be different  based upon the county that the matter is in.     If an alimony award continues over a period of time, life insurance on the payor’s life to cover the value of the award is an important consideration.    Should a payor die before the payments are final, without life insurance to cover the award, the payee will not realize the full value of his/her alimony.     Whether the alimony award payable is modifiable or non-modifiable due to changed circumstances is an important consideration.   An award could be modifiable upward or downward based upon the payor’s  or the payee’s  increase or decrease in earnings, loss of job,  new employment, etc.   Parties could also choose no modifications.     Tax implications used to be a significant factor to consider when alimony payments were deductible to the payor and taxable to the payee; however, that tax consequence was eliminated at the end of 2018, as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

If you have questions about whether you might have to pay alimony, or whether you might be eligible for alimony, it is best to consult with an experienced attorney.   For a consultation with Bookspan Family Law, LLC. Call 610 565-6200