There are a number of factors in the Pennsylvania Divorce code that the court must consider when determining whether to award Alimony. For purposes of this blog, let’s assume that you are entitled to alimony. How much alimony will you get and for how long?
It comes down to income and expenses
There is no set formula or guideline in Pennsylvania for figuring out how much Alimony to award like there is for other types of support, such as child support, spousal support and Alimony Pendente Lite. Instead, the amount of alimony awarded is considered on a case by case basis.
Two big factors that the court considers is your monthly net income and your monthly expenses. You must show the court proof of your income (tax returns, W-2, paystubs, bank statements, etc.) and you must produce a monthly expense/budget sheet. Failure to show proof of your income and your expenses to the court will likely result in the court not awarding alimony at all.
Let’s talk about monthly expenses
The most important thing I look at when analyzing an alimony case is my client’s monthly expenses. There is a form excel spreadsheet that I use, but there are many other free monthly expense forms that can be found online, or even software that can be purchased. This doesn’t have to be complicated, though. Just take a serious look at your monthly expenses and write them down. This includes what you pay for rent/mortgage each month, car payment, car insurance, life insurance, gas for the car, car repairs, utilities, phone, internet, etc. Alimony is for the spouse, not children, so make sure to only factor in expenses for yourself, not any minor dependents. For instance, if you spend 700 a month on groceries for yourself and 2 children, divide your grocery bill in thirds, (or whatever number you think is most accurate for yourself) and use that number.
For expenses you have throughout the year, but not each month, divide them over 12 months to determine what the monthly cost is. For instance, if you spend $2,000 to go on a yearly vacation, the monthly expense would be $167 a month.
If you anticipate having a monthly expense in the near future that you do not have currently, write that down too. For example, if you are living in the marital residence while going through the divorce, but expect to purchase your own home or rent an apartment once the divorce is finalized, include what you expect to spend each month for a mortgage/rent payment as your housing expense.
For expenses you currently have, but will no longer have after the divorce is final, include those in your budget, but expect that the court will not consider them in its alimony analysis. Attorney fees you pay your divorce attorney are an example. You will eventually stop having to pay a divorce attorney once the divorce is finalized. Sometimes I have my client write two separate monthly expense forms, one for current expenses and one for future expenses.
The key here is that your monthly expenses must be reasonable.
Monthly expenses must be reasonable
When a divorce hearing officer is reviewing your monthly expenses, they will focus on whether your expenses are reasonable or not. What is considered “reasonable” you might ask? This largely depends on your particular circumstances. For example, a budget of $150 a month for clothing may be considered reasonable for a person who must wear dressy suits for work every day in a formal setting, but this may not be a reasonable clothing budget for a person who works from home.
Does our standard of living during the marriage matter?
The lifestyle of the parties during the marriage is a factor in the Pennsylvania divorce code that the courts consider in alimony cases. However, the courts generally do not expect that you will maintain the exact same standard of living when the divorce is over. If you have a $1,000 monthly car payment for a luxury car that you drove during the marriage, the court may not consider it reasonable that you would continue to have such a high car payment when you are divorced. A $400 monthly car payment for a non-luxury, but dependable car, will probably be considered more reasonable.
Avoid underreporting your monthly expenses
While you need to be reasonable when coming up with your monthly expenses, you don’t want to be too reserved and end up underreporting your expenses. Monthly expenses can be quite a shock to some people, especially if you are taking a hard look at them, maybe for the first time ever. Some folks are embarrassed by what they spend. I often see my client claim $0 spent on entertainment. Of course you are going to have some “entertainment” expenses! No one is going to think you are being unreasonable by going out to dinner a few times a month or going on that yearly trip to Kennywood. Again, the key word here is “reasonable.”
So how much Alimony are we talking about here?
Once I have a number for my client’s monthly expenses, I compare the total number to my client’s monthly net income. Whatever the difference between the two numbers is what I ask the court to award. For example, if my client’s reasonable monthly expenses are $3,000, and their monthly net income is $2,000, I ask for $1,000 a month in Alimony.
For how long will I get alimony for?
Finally, the last question is how long will you get alimony for in your Pennsylvania divorce? Again, this depends on your particular circumstances, but age is a big factor here. For a person in their 30’s who has been out of the work force for 10 years to raise children, they will be expected to get back into the workforce (absent a disability or other limitations) as soon as possible. You must come up with a plan for how long it will take you to become self-supporting. In this case, alimony would be awarded for long enough to get you through until you can support yourself. For instance, maybe you intend to participate in a 2-year associate degree program to enter the medical field. The court may award 2-3 years of alimony in this type of case.
If you are in your mid-50’s, spent your life raising children and taking care of the home, and maybe held a part-time minimum wage job, it is unlikely at this stage in your life that you will go back to college and build a career before you reach retirement age. In this case, alimony is likely to be awarded until some retirement income starts coming in. For example, until age 59 ½ when you can access an IRA without penalty (if you have an IRA or will be awarded an IRA in the divorce, perhaps from a 401(k) rollover), age 62 when you can start collecting social security benefits or even when you start collecting your share of your spouse’s pension (if there is a pension) when they retire at age 65 or 67.
As you can see, the amount and duration of alimony is a very complex analysis. Every case is different. Divorce hearing officers and judges analyze these cases every day, thus they are acutely aware of the kinds of monthly expenses people have, and they have strong opinions on what they believe is reasonable or not reasonable. They have strong opinions on the duration of the alimony award. Your monthly expense statement is not something that can be thrown together. It must be well-thought out, and you must be prepared to back up your numbers.
I strongly recommend consulting with an experienced divorce attorney to address your questions and concerns about alimony in your Pennsylvania divorce.