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What Is Alimony and How Is It Calculated?

Notepad with alimony on the wooden table.

People use the term alimony loosely to refer to maintenance payments an ex-spouse makes to a former spouse. In Pennsylvania, however, there are three such terms for these payments, and each denotes support at a particular time in the process:

  • Spousal support — Amounts paid after the couple agrees to live “separately and apart,” but before a divorce is filed
  • Alimony pendente lite (APL) — Temporary alimony paid during the divorce process
  • Alimony (permanent alimony) — Amounts paid to prevent the unjust enrichment of one spouse or impoverishment of the other as a result of the divorce

The Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes contain strict formulas for spousal support and APL for couples with and without dependent children.

When there are children, an obligor (the higher-earning spouse) must pay 30 percent of his or her monthly net income minus the total of his support payment to a spouse and/or children of another marriage, the recipient spouse’s monthly net income, and the obligor’s child support payment from this marriage.

When there are no children, the obligor must pay 40 percent of his or her monthly net income minus the total of his support payment to a spouse and/or children of another marriage, and the recipient spouse’s monthly net income.

When it comes to permanent alimony, the Pa. C.S. § 3701 directs the court to consider several factors when deciding how much, if any, alimony to award and for how long. These factors include:

  • The relative earnings and earning capacities of the parties
  • The ages and the physical, mental and emotional conditions of the parties
  • The sources of income for both parties
  • The expectancies and inheritances of the parties
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other
  • The extent to which serving as the custodian of a minor child affects a spouse’s earning power
  • The standard of living established during the marriage
  • The time needed for the recipient party to gain education and training and find appropriate employment
  • The marital misconduct of either party during the marriage

In practice, however, many judges rely on the temporary alimony guidelines to inform them about how much permanent alimony is warranted unless there are compelling circumstances for deviating.  The law calls for the duration of alimony to be “reasonable,” but the trend is away from lifelong alimony in favor of time-limited awards, except for cases of older spouses from marriages of long durations.

The Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney & Associates, P.C. handles all aspects of divorce in Pennsylvania. Call us at 215.493.3360 or contact our Yardley office online to schedule a consultation. We serve clients throughout Bucks County, including Newtown, Washington Crossing, and Richboro.

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