When spouses file for divorce in Pennsylvania, a financially weaker spouse may be entitled to alimony. Pennsylvania courts award alimony based on financial need. It is not a punishment for any misconduct that may have caused the divorce. Even if spouses are filing for a no fault divorce, one of them may still owe alimony to the other.
No Fault Divorce
A no fault divorce means that neither spouse is alleging that any misconduct -- such as abuse, adultery or abandonment -- led to the end of the marriage. Instead, a Pennsylvania court will grant a divorce on the no fault ground of "mutual consent" of both spouses or because the spouses have voluntarily lived apart for at least two years.
Before a divorce is finalized, there are two types of financial support available to a spouse in Pennsylvania, "alimony pendente lite" and "spousal support." Alimony pendente lite is awarded on a short-term basis to provide financial assistance to one spouse during the divorce proceeding. It terminates when the divorce is finalized. Additionally, Pennsylvania courts recognize spousal support, which is very similar to alimony pendente lite, except that spousal support is awarded prior to a divorce proceeding and when the spouses first separate. The other difference is that spousal support is not available during the separation period to any spouse who committed misconduct, such as adultery or abandonment. However, that spouse may be entitled to alimony pendente lite once the divorce is filed.
Types of Alimony
Once a divorce is final, a spouse may be awarded "alimony." Permanent alimony may be awarded to a spouse after a long-term marriage, especially when that spouse is unable to maintain employment because of advanced age or absence from the workforce for a long period of time. If permanent alimony is not appropriate, rehabilitative alimony may be awarded to provide financial support to a spouse while she completes education or training, to help her obtain employment with an income sufficient to be self-supporting. Another option is periodic alimony, which may be awarded on a short-term basis when rehabilitative alimony is not available, but the spouse requires financial support. For example, if a spouse is the custodian for young children, she may be entitled to periodic alimony until the children are of school age and she is able to return to work. Lastly, reimbursement or compensatory alimony is awarded when a spouse contributed to the education or training of the other spouse during the marriage. For example, if one spouse worked full time during the marriage to support the household and pay the other spouse's tuition, she may be eligible for reimbursement alimony.
There is no specific mathematical formula for calculating alimony in Pennsylvania. Instead, the court considers several factors when determining the amount and duration of alimony. These factors include each spouse's income, financial needs, length of marriage and standard of living during the marriage. Additional consideration is given to the spouses' ages, receiving spouse's ability to work, receiving spouse's need for education or training before entering the work force to earn a self-sustaining income, whether the receiving spouse has custody of any children, and the owing spouse's ability to pay.
Modification and Termination
An alimony order may be modified by a Pennsylvania court at the request of either spouse. Modification is appropriate when there has been a "material and substantial change in circumstances." This could include the owing spouse losing a job or suffering a decrease in income, making meeting the alimony obligation impossible. Additionally, if the spouse receiving alimony becomes financially self-sufficient sooner than expected, the owing spouse can request a decrease in alimony until the order terminates.
An alimony order may also be terminated. In Pennsylvania, a spouse is no longer entitled to alimony if she remarries or is cohabiting with someone of the opposite sex. Additionally, alimony terminates if either spouse dies.
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