Alimony has been the law of the land in PA for well over 30 years, and yet it is common for prospective clients to have the mistaken belief that there is no alimony in PA. Alimony was first provided for in PA in the 1980 Divorce Code. It is one of the kinds of relief a judge can order in conjunction with a divorce. The divorce code calls alimony a “secondary remedy,” so that, if there is sufficient money or property awarded to a lesser-earning spouse in the divorce process, alimony may not be ordered. Alimony cannot be awarded if the recipient spouse has remarried, and even if the recipient spouse is living in a marital-type relationship with another person, he or she is probably disqualified from receiving alimony.
There are no “guidelines” for alimony, as there are for child and spousal support, and there is no set formula about how much alimony should be awarded, or for how long it should be awarded. If the marriage was of a substantial length, and there is insufficient property to award the lesser-earning spouse which would allow them to meet their own reasonable needs, and the greater-earning spouse is earning substantially more, it is more likely that alimony would be awarded. The amount and length of the alimony award is governed by a set of 17 factors which the court may consider, including age and health of the parties, ability to acquire wealth in the future, absence from the workforce because of raising children, etc. along with the issue of how much property was awarded in the property distribution.
Even when alimony is awarded, the length of time for which it is awarded may be short, or it may be indefinite, again depending upon the length of the marriage or the situations of the parties. In any case, alimony cannot extend past the death of either party or the remarriage of the recipient party. Since alimony usually constitutes taxable income to the recipient and a tax deduction to the payor, it can be a useful tool to resolve property distribution issues in settlement negotiations.
Pennsylvania law also provides for temporary alimony, called “alimony pendente lite” (or “APL”) while a divorce is pending. Unlike alimony, the amount of APL is governed by the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines (which is a mathematical formula which uses the parties’ monthly net incomes to determine the amount of the monthly obligation), and it ends upon divorce. Also unlike alimony, it is usually collected through the PASCDU support collection system, enforced by a wage attachment on the wages of the payor spouse and disbursed by PASCDU to the recipient.