How is Spousal Support Determined in Pennsylvania?

Divorces are a little bit like snowflakes…there are a lot of them, and they are all unique.  So even though in almost all divorces the court will have to decide whether one spouse should receive alimony payments, because each couple’s situation is different it’s difficult to make rules about how that decision gets made that will apply to every case.  Instead, Pennsylvania relies on judges to use their discretion when making decisions about alimony.

What limits does Pennsylvania law put on judges when awarding Alimony?

A Pennsylvania judge can make any order regarding alimony payments that he or she thinks are both “reasonable” and “necessary” following the entry of a divorce decree.  Those payments can be ordered for a certain period of time or can be ongoing.  Whether the judge decides to award alimony payments or not, he or she will have to explain the reasons for the decision.  Pennsylvania law requires the judge to consider a list of 17 factors when deciding whether or not alimony payments are ‘reasonable and necessary.’ Your divorce lawyer can help you craft the best possible argument in favor of obtaining alimony.

What factors is the judge required to consider?

Most of the factors the judge is required to consider have to do with each partner’s wealth and earning capacity.  For example, judges are required to consider all of the following:

  • How much each partner earns, as well as how much he or she could earn
  • Each partner’s sources of income, including not only jobs but also sources like insurance payments, government benefits, pensions, etc.
  • Any expected income for either partner, for example from an inheritance
  • Each partner’s wealth and debts
  • Each partner’s education and job skills, and/or the amount of time it would take to learn enough to get an appropriate job
  • Whether or not one partner made significant contributions to the other partner’s education, training, or other increases in his or her ability to generate income
  • Whether either partner is unable to support him- or herself through employment
  • How much property each partner brought to the marriage
  • What an alimony award would mean for each of the partners’ taxes

However, the judge is also required to consider a variety of factors about the marriage itself.  Those factors include:

  • Whether either partner has made contributions to the family by staying home to raise children
  • Whether either partner will have custody of the couple’s child or children, and whether that will affect his or her ability to make money
  • Each partner’s age and health (including physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing)
  • How long the partners were married
  • Whether either partner “cheated” or engaged in other marital misconduct
  • The relative standard of living the couple enjoyed while they were married
  • The relative needs of each partner, and whether each has enough property to meet his or her reasonable needs

As you can tell, alimony decisions in Pennsylvania can be complicated.  That’s why it’s critical to have an experienced attorney to help you make your argument to the court about what is reasonable and necessary.  Attorney Gary Swavely is available to help you sort out your own situation.  If you have questions about a divorce, call today to set up a consultation.