By Anna Ciardi
There are three types of spousal support in Pennsylvania that are distinguishable from one another dependent upon the different stages of the Pennsylvania divorce process.
1. Pennsylvania Spousal Support
The first type, spousal support, is applicable from the date of separation until either party files a divorce complaint.
The support figure is determined by a formula. It is determined by taking the net income of the higher-earning spouse, minus the net income of the lower-earning spouse, and then the lower-earning spouse would be awarded 40% of the sum difference.
For example, if the higher-earning spouse nets $3,000 a month and the lower-earning spouse nets $1,500 a month, then spousal support obligation would be determined to be $600.00 per month.
This calculation is different and more complicated if there are children involved. In a situation where there are also child support payments, the calculation becomes the net income of the higher-earning spouse, minus the net income of the lower-earning spouse, minus any child support payments and then they would be entitled to 30% of the sum difference.
Please note that this is a very general description of the spousal support calculation in Pennsylvania, and that other factors such as child custody arrangements, health insurance costs, child care expenses, etc., can impact this calculation.
It is important to note that there are defenses to spousal support before a divorce complaint is filed.
These are the only defined exceptions to the obligation to pay spousal support. According to case law they are where the recipient spouse conducts him or herself in a manner that would constitute grounds for a fault-based divorce.
Fault divorce is uncommon these days in most states including Pennsylvania. However, the law holds that a fault divorce may be granted to an innocent and injured spouse where the other spouse has, inter alia, committed willful and malicious desertion, committed adultery, and/or “offered such indignities to the innocent and injured spouse as to render that spouse’s condition intolerable and life burdensome.”
These actions must occur prior to the separation of the parties. Therefore, an extramarital affair would likely negate a spouse’s entitlement to receive any spousal support during the time period while the parties are separated but no divorce complaint has been filed. Also, spousal support is not likely to be awarded when the parties are still cohabiting and sharing expenses.
2. Pennsylvania Alimony Pendente Lite
Next there is alimony pendente lite (APL), which is Latin for alimony pending litigation. This type of support is applicable from the date a divorce complaint is filed until the divorce has been finalized.
Pennsylvania courts have found that the theory behind APL is to permit both spouses the financial wherewithal to proceed in the divorce action.
Therefore, the entitlement defenses will not apply to an APL proceeding. In other words, even if the spouse seeking APL has committed adultery or has abandoned the marriage without a just cause, that spouse may very well still be entitled to APL payments.
For the spouse receiving APL, this can create a situation where they have incentive to prolong the entry of the divorce decree and finalization of equitable distribution as long as possible, so that they can continue to receive payments and remain on the health insurance benefits of the other spouse.
The APL amount is determined using the same formula for spousal support. As with spousal support, there is an argument that the higher-earning spouse should not have to pay this type of support if the parties are still living together and sharing expenses, because the payments made on behalf of the lower-earning spouse, such as the mortgage and utilities, should be deducted for any amount that might actually be owed.
However, since the purpose of APL is to help the lower-earning spouse litigate the divorce, this may be awarded even though the parties may continue to reside together.
3. Pennsylvania Alimony
The last type of spousal support in Pennsylvania is alimony, which is what most people think of when discussing this topic.
This type of spousal support is applicable after the divorce is final and is generally a lower amount than APL and is typically set up for a finite period of time, e.g., $300 per month for three years.
Alimony is more common:
- When it was a lengthy marriage;
- When there is a large income disparity between the parties;
- When one spouse has a physical or mental disability that impacts their earning capacity; or
- When one spouse provides primary care for the children.
There is also the possibility of rehabilitative alimony, where the theory is that alimony will be provided for a specific purpose, to help the lower-earning spouse secure skills that will enable them to provide for themselves through appropriate employment.
In Pennsylvania alimony is generally terminated when the recipient spouse begins residing with another person in a marriage-like relationship or when the recipient spouse remarries or dies. However, it is still important to specifically include this provision in any marriage settlement agreements.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia Divorce Lawyers For Men
If you are a man facing divorce and are susceptible to possibly paying alimony in Pennsylvania, please consult with a divorce lawyer in your jurisdiction to ensure your rights are protected. Cordell & Cordell has offices and family law attorneys located in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Radnor should you seek additional information or possible legal representation.