For a judge to order spousal support, it must be necessary and reasonable.
In the last decade, there have been some major changes in alimony laws in some states. In Pennsylvania, however, alimony laws at least for now remain relatively traditional in that they give broader discretion to judges than those of some other states.
Alimony by agreement
First, it is common for divorcing spouses to negotiate an agreement resolving the issue of alimony. In Pennsylvania, an agreement about spousal support is submitted to the court, where it is incorporated into a court order that is legally enforceable if the paying spouse should default.
Statutory alimony standards
If agreement cannot be reached, the judge in the divorce shall make a decision pursuant to state statute. During the pendency of the divorce proceeding, the judge may grant reasonable temporary spousal support.
In determining whether to order alimony after the divorce is final, the judge must decide if it is “necessary” and if so, it must be “reasonable.” In making these decisions as well as determining the amount, duration and other aspects of the award, the court is to weigh “all relevant factors,” including specific things in a list within state statute:
- Each spouse’s earnings and earning capacity
- Each spouse’s age and “physical, mental and emotional” condition
- All sources of income to each person
- Expected gifts and inheritances of each person
- Marriage length
- Contributions by either spouse to the career of the other
- Impact of child custody responsibilities on earnings, expenses or debts
- Marital standard of living
- Each person’s education and how long it would take for the spouse requesting alimony to get the education or training needed to “find appropriate employment”
- Each of their assets and liabilities
- Property either of them brought into the marriage
- Homemaker contributions
- Their “relative needs”
- Marital misconduct during marriage, but not after separation, unless there was abuse during separation
- Tax impact
- Whether the person asking for alimony does not have enough property to meet “reasonable needs,” including the property that will be granted in the property division in the divorce
- Whether the spouse seeking alimony is not capable of supporting him or herself through appropriate employment
Duration of award
The judge is allowed to set a reasonable duration of the alimony award either as a definite period of time or indefinitely. This would allow an alimony obligation to continue indefinitely until the end of life, something some states are beginning to limit. However, alimony does end if the recipient cohabits with another person or remarries.
Termination also happens at the death of either party unless there is an agreement or court order that provision be made for it to continue after death. Finally, an alimony order can be terminated, modified, suspended or reinstated or a brand new order can be crafted if there are “changed circumstances of either party of a substantial and continuing nature.”
A lawyer can answer questions about how Pennsylvania alimony laws are likely to impact an award in any particular divorce.
Attorney Joe Guillama of The Law Offices of Joseph A. Guillama in Reading represents divorce clients in surrounding communities and in Berks County.