Basic principles of Pennsylvania alimony law

An award of alimony is not automatic in a Pennsylvania divorce. It must first be necessary and then reasonable, as detailed in state statute.

Alimony is the payment of support from one ex-spouse to the other after divorce. The receipt or payment of alimony can have a huge impact on the standard of living of either party, depending on the situation.

(In Pennsylvania, spousal support may also be available between separation and the filing of the divorce petition and temporary alimony during the pendency of the divorce proceeding.)

The parties may negotiate an agreement, usually facilitated through their respective attorneys, in which they decide whether alimony will be paid and if so, how much and for how long. If the court approves the agreement, it becomes part of the divorce order of the court.

If negotiation fails, the court will determine whether to grant alimony and define the nature of the award. Pennsylvania law gives relatively broad discretion to judges in alimony decisions. However, one provision of state law that is fairly unique among states is that the judge can only order reasonable alimony if it is "necessary."

In determining necessity as well as "nature, amount, [definite or indefinite] duration and manner of payment," the court must consider "all relevant factors," including those in a list of 17:

  • Spouses' incomes and earning capacities
  • Ages and "physical, mental and emotional" health of each
  • All sources of income, including insurance and retirement
  • Parties' "expectancies and inheritances"
  • Length of marriage
  • Contributions to "education, training or increased earning power" by one to the other spouse
  • Impact of child custody after divorce on "earning power, expenses or financial obligations"
  • Marital standard of living
  • Parties' education and how long the potential recipient would need to get training or education to enable "appropriate employment"
  • Assets and liabilities
  • Property "brought to the marriage by either"
  • Homemaker contributions
  • Relative needs
  • Marital misconduct before final separation, except after final separation court must consider abuse
  • Tax impacts
  • Ability of potential recipient to meet their own "reasonable needs"
  • Incapability of potential recipient to support themselves

The spouse who petitions the court for divorce may not get alimony if they began cohabitating with someone of the opposite gender to whom they are not related after the divorce.

Alimony can end if:

  • The recipient remarries.
  • The recipient begins cohabitation.
  • Either party gets a court order modifying the award based on substantial, continuing change of circumstances.
  • The recipient dies or the payor dies, unless the divorce order or settlement agreement provided for payments such as out of a trust or estate.

This is only a brief introduction to a complex topic of Pennsylvania law. Alimony is highly dependent on the detailed circumstances of the divorcing parties. An attorney can provide advice about alimony as well as alimony advocacy as part of divorce.

The divorce lawyers at Wolfe, Rice & Quinn, LLC, in Gettysburg represent people on either side of the alimony question as well as in broader divorce and family law matters throughout the Gettysburg and Hanover areas.