Divorce laws in Pennsylvania are somewhat complex, at least when it comes to spousal support. The state recognizes three distinctly separate types of support: Spousal support, alimony and alimony pendente lite, often referred to as APL. The type of support determines the guidelines and calculations that are used based on legislation that went into effect in April, 2018. All three types have one thing in common: The spouse who earns the most pays the spouse who earns less. Support is based on the reasonable needs of the spouse who receives it. Alimony and spousal support are not payable in every Pennsylvania divorce case.
Spousal Support Vs. Alimony
Spousal support and APL are similar in that both are payable before a divorce is final. Technically, spousal support is paid after spouses separate but before they’ve initiated divorce proceedings, and APL is paid after the divorce process begins but before it’s final. Alimony is paid after the divorce is finalized.
Calculating Spousal Support
Spousal support and APL are both calculated based on the Pennsylvania spousal support calculator formula established and refined by 2018 legislation. The math begins with the net incomes of both spouses – what’s left over after union dues and mandatory taxes are paid or withheld. The term income casts a pretty wide net in Pennsylvania. It includes the usual wages, salaries and self-employment income as well as bonuses, rental income, commissions and even interest earned on investments.
The lesser-earning spouse’s income is subtracted from the higher-earning spouse’s income, and the result is multiplied by 40 percent. This assumes that the paying spouse is not also paying child support. If so, her child support obligation is first subtracted from her net income before calculating the difference between her income and that of her spouse. Then the result is multiplied by 30 percent.
If the spouse with the higher income is entitled to receiv_e_ child support because he's also the custodial parent, this complicates things a bit. In this case, the calculation begins with the formula used for spouses who don’t have child support orders in place. Then their incomes are adjusted upward and downward to account for the alimony payments changing hands, and the amount of child support is then calculated based on the Pennsylvania child support calculator using these income figures.
Finally, alimony is recalculated with the child support payment offsetting the alimony obligation. Pennsylvania courts might sometimes deviate from these calculations, but that’s unusual.
There’s No Formula for Alimony
In theory, at least, support payable after a divorce isn’t determined by an alimony calculator in Pennsylvania. It’s subjective, based on the opinion of a divorce court judge. The judge weighs various factors in addition to the parties’ incomes, including how long they were married, their standard of living during the marriage, the property that each might have owned before the marriage or received as part of the divorce, whether one spouse contributed to the education or career of the other and even marital misconduct.
As a practical matter, however, most judges begin their considerations with the pre-divorce spousal support amounts determined by the Pennsylvania spousal support calculator. The idea is to prevent one spouse from living in luxury after divorce, while the other is impoverished.
How Long Does Support Last?
Spousal support and APL are of finite duration – they last until the divorce is final when a new alimony order might or might not take over. As for alimony, it’s not forever in many cases. Alimony payments generally only continue for as long as it takes the under-earning spouse to become more financially self-sufficient.
Alimony always ends if the receiving spouse’s financial needs change due to remarriage or even because she’s cohabiting with someone without tying the knot. It also ends when either spouse dies.
Federal Changes in 2019
Of course, spouses can always arrive at an amount of alimony by consent, although their agreement must still be approved by a judge before it can be included in their divorce decree. But an amicable agreement might be more difficult to achieve beginning in 2019 thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that became law in 2018.
Alimony used to be tax deductible for the spouse paying it. The spouse receiving it had to claim it as income and pay taxes on the money. This tax rule has been in place since 1942, but it changes for divorces that are finalized after December 31, 2018 thanks to the new tax law.
It remains to be seen how willing spouses will be to consensually pay alimony when they’re also paying taxes on that portion of their incomes, at least if they can’t finalize their divorces in 2018 before the deadline for the change.
- Cooley & Handy: How Alimony and Spousal Support Is Calculated in Pennsylvania
- Equitable Mediation: Understanding Alimony in PA in 2018 and the Challenges of Resolving It
- The Pennsylvania Code: Rule 1910.16-4 Support Guidelines, Calculation of Support Obligation, Formula
- Penglase & Benson: Pennsylvania Spousal Support 101
- ABA Journal: New Tax Law Affects Alimony, Could Spur Divorce Surge