Have questions about how alimony works in Pennsylvania? We cover everything you need to know about alimony in PA here.
If you’re going through a divorce in Pennsylvania, you may be wondering how does alimony work in PA?
This article provides an overview of alimony in Pennsylvania, including how it’s calculated, how long it lasts, and other key details you should know.
Alimony is financial support provided from one spouse to the other while a divorce is pending or once a divorce has been finalized.
In many states, the term alimony has been replaced by terms such as “spousal maintenance” or “spousal support.” Pennsylvania, though, still uses the term alimony.
And importantly, spousal support is a separate form of financial support in Pennsylvania that is technically not alimony, which we’ll discuss in greater detail below.
There are two types of alimony in PA: Alimony pendente lite (i.e. temporary alimony); and post-divorce alimony, which under Pennsylvania’s laws is generally referred to simply as “alimony.”
Two related categories of support to be aware of, though they are not technically considered alimony in Pennsylvania, are spousal support and equitable reimbursement.
Alimony pendente lite is temporary alimony that is awarded while a divorce is pending. (“Pendente lite” is Latin for “during litigation”).
Alimony pendente lite allows the requesting spouse to have an equal playing field with the higher earner during divorce proceedings. The payments aim to allow the receiving spouse to maintain the standard of living they were accustomed to during the marriage and participate in divorce proceedings without worrying about making financial ends meet.
An award of alimony pendente lite in Pennsylvania does not affect how much alimony will be awarded, or for how long, once the divorce is finalized. The two types of alimony are calculated differently and an award of alimony pendente lite does not guarantee there will be an award of post-divorce alimony.
Alimony pendente lite automatically ends once the divorce is finalized.
Alimony pendente lite has no “entitlement defenses,” unlike spousal support in PA.
So whereas a person can contest a request for spousal support (i.e. payments made before a divorce is filed) if there are fault-based grounds for filing for divorce, they cannot raise those objections to a request for alimony pendente lite in PA.
That said, if the requesting spouse is not making efforts to finalize the divorce, the spouse paying support can ask the court to terminate the APL.
Post-divorce alimony is awarded only when “necessary” according to a list of factors set out in Pennsylvania’s alimony laws.
Pennsylvania does not use a mathematical formula for calculating post-divorce alimony arrangements. Instead, it is up to the judge's discretion to determine whether alimony is appropriate, how much alimony should be paid, and for how long it should be paid.
Ultimately, the question of whether to award alimony in PA boils down to whether the requesting spouse can support themselves and whether the paying spouse can provide the necessary support.
Although they are not technically forms of alimony in PA, two related types of financial support to be aware of are spousal support and equitable reimbursement.
Spousal support is basically the same as alimony pendente lite, except that it is paid once a couple has separated but before they have filed for divorce.
Spousal support cannot be ordered at the same time as alimony pendente lite. Once one of the spouses files for divorce, the spousal support order will be converted into an alimony pendente lite order.
Spousal support and the pendente lite order are calculated using the same method, which allows for a smooth transition to occur when one is converted to the other.
Equitable reimbursement is a form of compensation aimed at reimbursing a spouse who supported the family while the other spouse attended school or got additional training so as to increase the family’s earning capacity.
When a couple splits before the benefits of that education or training come to bear, Pennsylvania law recognizes that the supporting spouse made a sacrifice and ought to be compensated in the interests of fairness.
When alimony is awarded in Pennsylvania depends on the type of alimony at issue.
Alimony pendente lite alimony is awarded during the divorce process and aims to help the receiving spouse make ends meet and maintain the standard of living they are accustomed to.
Meanwhile, post-divorce alimony is awarded once the divorce is finalized and is granted on a more limited basis, namely when the receiving spouse cannot support themselves.
Keep in mind that alimony is calculated differently depending on whether it is awarded during or after the divorce. As noted above, alimony pendente lite in PA considers the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage and aims to give temporary support, allowing the recipient spouse to maintain that standard.
Under Pennsylvania’s alimony laws, though, post-divorce alimony is to be awarded when it is “necessary.” It is up to the judge’s discretion to determine when financial support is necessary and reasonable.
There is no clear formula to calculate post-divorce alimony in Pennsylvania. Instead, judges use 17 factors to determine how much alimony should be paid.
Some of those factors include:
At a high level, judges are looking for whether or not the spouse seeking alimony would be able to support themselves and whether the other party is able to make alimony payments.
(And note that child support is calculated separately from alimony, though it could influence a spouse's financial obligations or need for financial assistance).
The factors discussed above are what a judge will look at when calculating alimony in Pennsylvania, but you and your spouse can reach your own agreement instead.
If you are able to do so, Pennsylvania courts will typically not interfere with the details you agree upon, and instead will either deny or likely approve the agreement.
Reaching an agreement with your spouse allows you to control the process and the outcome rather than leaving it to a judge’s discretion. And it can also save time, money, and headache by avoiding a potentially lengthy or contentious court process.
Alimony can be paid for either a definite or indefinite period of time, depending on the circumstances. The duration depends on the judge’s discretion and whether they believe the requesting spouse can become self-supporting.
If the requesting spouse simply needs assistance through a transition period to find a job or pursue education, then alimony will be awarded for a shorter, limited period of time. But the judge may award alimony indefinitely if the requesting spouse has a medical condition or something else preventing them from becoming economically self-sufficient.
Generally, the longer the marriage lasted, the longer that alimony will be paid. And except for unusual circumstances, alimony is unlikely to be awarded for marriages shorter than three years.
However, certain circumstances also end alimony arrangements separate from the original court order. For instance, if the spouse receiving payments remarries, the paying spouse is no longer required to pay alimony.
Alimony also ends if the requesting spouse cohabitates with another person, such as a new romantic partner.
Yes, it is possible to modify alimony in Pennsylvania. To modify alimony, a spouse must file a petition and show a change in circumstances that warrants a modification.
Couples can agree in writing not to change their alimony arrangement. But assuming no such agreement is in place, the judge can review the change in circumstances and decide whether to modify the original alimony order.
Circumstances that justify a modification include if a person falls ill or the spouse paying alimony loses their job or retires. A judge will consider whether the change in circumstances is substantial enough to modify the alimony arrangement.
If both parties agree to a modification before appearing in court, they can submit a modification request for court approval.
If a spouse fails to pay alimony in PA, the first step is to file a motion with the court to enforce the order. Once a motion is filed, several enforcement measures are available, including:
If things escalate, the paying spouse can be jailed for up to six months for contempt of court.
If the divorce was finalized before 2019, then the paying spouse may deduct alimony payments from their federal income taxes, and the requesting spouse must report alimony as taxable income.
If the divorce was finalized in 2019 or later, the supported spouse doesn’t have to report alimony as income, and the paying spouse cannot get a tax reduction.
Anyone may file for alimony in Pennsylvania. Whether a person receives an award or not depends on the judge’s discretion and the 17 factors mentioned above.
Alimony is always paid by the higher-earner to the lower-earning spouse.
There is no minimum length of time a person must be married to receive alimony in Pennsylvania. That said, longer marriages are more likely to result in alimony awards.
The court’s evaluation, though, depends on the circumstances of the couple.
So, how does alimony work in Pennsylvania? Let’s recap the main takeaways.
There are two main types of alimony in PA -- alimony pendente lite, which is temporary financial support paid during the divorce process; and post-divorce alimony, which may be awarded when the divorce decree is finalized.
APL is aimed at helping the recipient spouse maintain the standard of living they had during the marriage, and to have equal footing with the higher-earning spouse. Post-divorce alimony, meanwhile, is only awarded when it is necessary for the recipient spouse because they cannot be self-sufficient.
Judges consider a variety of factors when determining alimony, but the threshold issues are the needs of the spouse seeking alimony and the paying spouse's ability to make payments.
If you have other questions about your situation, it may be worth speaking with a divorce lawyer near you.