Alimony is a payment that one spouse makes to the other to provide support to create a standard of living similar to that of the marriage. It’s common for a lower-earning spouse or with a lower-earning capacity to require financial assistance for a specified amount and duration.
Here are several other things to know that help you understand Pennsylvania alimony laws and how it’s calculated.
- Who is Entitled to Alimony in Pennsylvania?
- What are the Types of Alimony in Pennsylvania?
- What Factors Determine Spousal Support in Pennsylvania?
- How Long Does Alimony Last in Pennsylvania?
- How Do I Modify Alimony?
- Alimony and Taxes
- Pennsylvania Alimony FAQs
Who is Entitled to Alimony in Pennsylvania?
Nobody is “entitled” to alimony in Pennsylvania. It is not guaranteed and is not awarded automatically in all divorces.
Instead, alimony is purely discretionary based on findings by the court and using 17 factors listed in Section 3701 of the Pennsylvania Divorce Code.
A spouse seeking alimony must petition the court to request spousal support or negotiate it with their spouse through meditation.
What are the Types of Alimony in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania defines alimony differently depending on the stage of the divorce. In addition to alimony, there’s also spousal support. In Pennsylvania, it is defined as temporary financial support paid to help with the living expenses of a spouse after a separation but before a divorce is filed.
A judge will calculate spousal support based on PA Guidelines for Spousal Support to determine an appropriate amount. If spousal support is awarded under the guidelines, spouses can request a deviation by establishing a more significant financial need than what the guidelines provide.
Alimony Pendente Lite
Like spousal support, alimony pendente lite is a temporary arrangement. It is awarded while a divorce case is pending. This can allow a spouse to maintain their livelihood during the divorce process and afford the cost of the divorce. There are some limits to the length of time as to how long alimony pendente lite will last, based on Pennsylvania statutes and at the court’s discretion.
As with spousal support, if alimony pendente lite is awarded by the court under the state guidelines, a spouse can request a deviation by establishing a more significant financial need than the Guidelines provide.
A judge will use 17 factors mandated by Pennsylvania law to determine if alimony should be awarded, in what amount, and for how long.
In Pennsylvania, alimony refers to the financial support paid from one ex-spouse to another once their marriage ends and divorce is final. Post-divorce alimony is awarded based on the receiving ex-spouse’s true financial need.
In January 2019, there were two significant changes to the Guidelines calculation formula due to updates in alimony reform as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The PA divorce laws new formula and approach help the paying spouse who lost the ability to deduct the spousal support/alimony pendente lite payment due to the amendment to offset the tax deduction with having to pay less spousal support.
The other aspect is a spousal support/alimony pendente lite award amount is now considered part of the recipient spouse’s income. This is to assign percentage splits for children’s out-of-pocket, unreimbursed healthcare expenses and premiums. This means that the recipient spouse will now pay a higher percentage towards these costs than they did before January 2019.
This also offsets the loss of the payor’s tax savings from the lost deduction.
There are three types of alimony in Pennsylvania:
Rehabilitative alimony provides temporary financial support for a fixed period while a spouse completes school, training, or other “rehabilitation” that will allow them to become self-supporting.
Permanent alimony provides payments for the rest of the former spouse’s lifetime or until the dependent spouse remarries.
Reimbursement Alimony is awarded to one spouse as payment for expenses paid on behalf of the other spouse. That includes payment of education, medical bills, or marital debt.
Read More: How To File For Divorce in Pennsylvania
What Factors Determine Spousal Support in Pennsylvania?
Here are the 17 alimony factors considered by the PA courts when determining alimony (Section 3701 of the PA Divorce Code).
During divorce mediation or court action, these are thoroughly reviewed to achieve the fairest alimony settlement possible.
- The relative earning capacity of both spouses.
- The duration of the marriage.
- The two spouses’ ages and physical, mental, and emotional states.
- The sources of income of both spouses. This includes medical, retirement, insurance, or other benefits.
- The expected future earnings and inheritances of the two spouses.
- The degree to which one spouse has contributed to the other spouse’s education, training, or increased earning potential.
- The degree to which a spouse will be financially affected by their position as the custodian of a minor child.
- The standard of living of the spouses established during the marriage.
- The relative education of the parties. This also considers the time it would take for the spouse seeking alimony to acquire the education or training necessary to find employment.
- The relative assets and liabilities of the two spouses.
- The property each spouse brought to the marriage.
- The degree a spouse contributed as a homemaker.
- The relative needs of the two spouses.
- The marital misconduct of either of the spouses during the marriage. “Abuse” in this context shall have the meaning given to it under Section 6102.
- The federal, state, and local tax consequences of the alimony.
- Whether the spouse seeking alimony lacks sufficient property, including items in Chapter 35 relating to property rights, to provide for their reasonable needs.
- Whether the spouse seeking alimony is incapable of supporting themselves through appropriate employment.
How Long Does Alimony Last in Pennsylvania?
There’s no entitlement to alimony in Pennsylvania; by extension, there’s no hard and fast rule about how long alimony will last.
In some Pennsylvania courts, an unspoken rule of thumb is that a recipient should receive one year of alimony for every three years of marriage. Again, that’s not a law because a judge ultimately decides on the amount and duration after considering 17 factors and other possible variables. Also, courts generally award alimony in a long marriage for a more extended period.
Read More: What is a Marital Settlement Agreement?
How Do I Modify Alimony?
If the circumstances of either spouse change significantly, the court can decide to modify, suspend or terminate the alimony order.
You can file a motion to modify or terminate alimony in your county court of common pleas clerk’s office. Unless specifically written into a divorce decree, either spouse can request a modification by petitioning the court. The court will schedule a hearing where both you and your ex-spouse must appear.
The spouse seeking the change must prove that there’s been a material change in the circumstances of one or both spouses. Examples of this might include if a paying spouse loses a job involuntarily, the supported spouse receives a substantial raise, or if the health of either spouse changes radically.
If the court believes that you’ve proven your alimony case, the judge can modify or terminate alimony retroactively from the date you filed your motion.
Another way to modify alimony is when you and your ex-spouse agree to modify alimony yourselves. If you can reach an agreement, you should put the terms of your settlement agreement in writing, sign it, and submit it to the court for approval.
Alimony generally terminates when either spouse passes away or the receiving spouse gets married.
Alimony and Taxes
Due to recent changes in Federal laws, the payer cannot deduct alimony or separate maintenance payments under a divorce or separation instrument executed after 2018. These payments are also not included as taxable income for recipients.
The same is true of alimony paid under a divorce or separation instrument executed before 2019 and modified after 2018 if the modification states that the alimony isn’t deductible to the payee spouse or includible in the income of the recipient.
Taxpayers paying alimony under a divorce agreement executed before 2019 can deduct those payments from taxes when the following criteria are met:
- The recipient must be a spouse or former spouse
- There must be a written divorce or separation instrument
- Alimony must be made with cash payments (such as checks and money orders)
- Alimony does not continue after the recipient dies
- The parties must live apart, residing in different households
- The parties must file separate tax returns (they cannot file a joint return and claim the alimony deduction)
- The court-ordered alimony payment cannot state that payments are not deductible
Read More: A Guide to Divorce Financial Planning
Pennsylvania Alimony FAQs
How are alimony payments enforced?
When a spouse willfully or involuntarily falls behind and fails to pay alimony, there are several possible actions the other spouse and the courts can take. Under Section 3703 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, these actions include:
- Bringing contempt charges against the paying party
- The court can enter a judgment against the paying spouse.
- Seize the collection of rents and profits of the paying spouse’s real estate.
- Attach up to 50% of the paying spouse’s wages (wage garnishment)
- Award the receiving spouse interest on the unpaid balance.
- Award legal expenses and costs.
- Requiring the paying spouse to provide collateral to enforce their obligation
Under Pennsylvania law, in the most serious cases, the paying spouse can be declared “in civil contempt of court,” fined, and jailed for no more than six months.
When seeking enforcement of an alimony award, it’s often best to consult with an experienced divorce attorney or family law attorney.
Is mediation a viable option to determine alimony?
In Pennsylvania courts, alimony calculated by a judge requires considering 17 factors to determine whether alimony is necessary. The judge also orders how much will be paid from one spouse to another, how these payments will be made, and for how long.
That can drag on for months and sometimes years, resulting in a tedious and exhausting process. Back and forth negotiations and in-person court hearings can rack up potentially exorbitant legal fees.
Mediation is a collaborative approach that gives divorcing spouses much more control over the outcome. When they can reach an alimony agreement on their own, determining alimony factors that are most important to them usually produces a win-win for everyone.
The attorney-mediator is also present during the negotiation as a neutral third party to ensure a fair process to protect and provide for both spouses involved instead of working through a court system with unpredictable outcomes beyond your control.
How long do you have to be married to receive alimony?
There’s no minimum length of time for a spouse to be married for alimony to apply. However, the length of the marriage is an essential factor in determining alimony and is one of the 17 factors a court considers.
Generally, the longer the marriage, the greater the case that can be made for alimony, assuming other relevant factors also exist as outlined above.
How does adultery affect alimony payments?
The court can consider marital misconduct during the marriage. If a party committed adultery, a judge is often more inclined to give deference to the injured and innocent spouse when determining an alimony award.
Can men get alimony in Pennsylvania?
Alimony awards in Pennsylvania are gender neutral. Men and women are entitled to petition the court for alimony in all forms.