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How Alimony and Spousal Support is Calculated in Pennsylvania
How Alimony Is Calculated in Pennsylvania: Updated for 2019
In Pennsylvania, there are three types of support: Spousal Support, Alimony Pendente Lite, and Alimony. Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite are calculated pursuant to a mathematical formula based on the parties’ monthly net incomes. Alimony is calculated pursuant to a list of factors.
1. Background on Pennsylvania Support
In Pennsylvania, there are three types of support that a party to a divorce might be ordered to pay a spouse: Spousal Support, Alimony Pendente Lite, and Alimony. The difference between them primarily relates to the stage in the divorce process in which support is paid. Spousal Support is paid to a spouse after separation but before a divorce is filed. Alimony Pendente Lite (APL) is paid to a spouse after a divorce is filed, but before the divorce is finalized. Alimony is paid to a spouse after the divorce is finalized.
The higher-earning party is always the person who pays Spousal Support, Alimony Pendente Lite and/or Alimony. Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite are determined based on a strict mathematical formula.
Alimony is theoretically supposed to be determined based on a number of financial and life factors. Among them are:
- The present earnings and the earnings capacities of both parties;
- The ages, and the physical, mental and emotional conditions of the parties;
- The sources of income of both parties, including medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits;
- Any expectancies and inheritances;
- The length of the marriage;
- The contribution of one party to the other party’s education, training or increased earning power;
- The standard of living established in the marriage;
- The education and/or degrees of each party;
- The assets, liabilities, and property in the marriage or owned individually;
- The relative needs of the parties; and
- Marital misconduct.
Note: The foregoing is not a complete list of all Alimony factors, just the primary ones.
2. How Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite are Calculated in Pennsylvania
As discussed above, Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite are calculated based on a mathematical formula. That formula was modified January 2019, due to the elimination of the federal deduction for support paid to a spouse or former spouse pursuant to a divorce.
The calculation of Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite has been made much simpler as a result of the changes in the law. In the past, Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite could not be calculated until child support payments, if any, were determined. Now, they are calculated first, using a simple formula.
Pennsylvania support for couples without minor children
In this circumstance, there will be no child support order. The new formula requires taking 33% of the obligor’s monthly net income (the obligor is the spouse with the higher net income) and subtracting 40% the obligee’s monthly net income (the spouse with the lower net income).
Monthly net income includes income from any source, including wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, interest, rental income, etc. The only items that are deductible from the parties’ monthly gross incomes are taxes, and mandatory deductions, such as union dues. Voluntary deductions, such as 401(k) contributions are added back.
For example, if a wife’s monthly after-tax net income is $5,000 and her husband’s monthly after-tax net income is $3,000, then the wife would owe the husband alimony in the amount of $450 per month ($5,000 x .33 (i.e. 33%) – $3,000 x .40 (i.e. 40%) = ($1,650 – $1,200 = $450).
Pennsylvania support for couples with minor children
In this circumstance, there will be a child support order in addition to spousal support or Alimony Pendente Lite order. The calculation for Spousal Support or Alimony Pendente Lite is slightly different. This calculation requires taking 25% of the obligor’s monthly net income (the spouse with the higher net income) and subtracting 30% the obligee’s monthly net income (the spouse with the lower net income)
For example, if a wife’s monthly after-tax net income is $5,000 and her husband’s monthly after-tax net income is $3,000, then the wife would owe the husband alimony in the amount of $350 per month ($5,000 x .25 (i.e. 25%) – $3,000 x .30 (i.e. 30%) = ($1,250 – 900 = $350). Then, in this example, child support would be calculated using the parties adjusted monthly net incomes (adjusted with the addition or subtraction of the Spousal Support/Alimony Pendente Lite payments). See How Child Support is Calculated in Pennsylvania.
3. How Alimony is Calculated in Pennsylvania
As stated above, Alimony is supposed to be calculated pursuant to a list of factors. In practice, however, we have found that the courts in Pennsylvania either calculate Alimony pursuant to the same formula used for Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite or apply a needs-based analysis.
In Bucks County, where we primarily practice, the court and family law master almost exclusively rely on the mathematical formula for all three types of support, including Alimony. However, in most other counties, such as in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, the courts and divorce masters calculate alimony on more of a needs-based analysis rather than on an application of the formula or the Alimony factors.
That means that the amount of alimony is determined based on the needs of the spouse receiving alimony. In those counties, the court will calculate the reasonable monetary needs of the recipient-spouse for living expenses including rent/mortgage, groceries, health insurance, utilities, etc. The amount needed to pay for those living expenses is then compared to the spouse’s monthly net income and the difference would be the amount of alimony the court would order.
For example, if the spouse seeking alimony has a net income of $3,000 a month, and the court, applying a needs-based analysis concludes that the spouse seeking alimony reasonably needs $3,800 per month to pay for his or her for reasonable living expenses, then the spouse paying alimony will be required to pay $800 a month for some period of time.
If interested, you can Learn How Long Alimony Lasts in Pennsylvania. It is important to note that alimony is not necessarily payable in every case and, even when it is payable, is usually of limited duration, the length of which is based on a variety of factors. It is also important to remember that a party is not entitled to Alimony and that Alimony ends if that party “cohabitates” with another person, as defined by Pennsylvania law.