How Long Does Alimony Last In PA?

People going through a divorce often wonder, how long does alimony last in PA? The answer depends on a variety of factors, including what type of “alimony” or support is being paid.

As we discussed in our previous article, there are three types of “alimony” or support that a court might order paid in Pennsylvania: Spousal Support, which is support paid to a spouse when separation begins but before a divorce is filed; Alimony Pendente Lite (APL), which is support paid to a spouse after a divorce is filed but before the divorce is final; and Alimony, which is support paid to a spouse after a divorce is final.

1.  Spousal Support. 

Spousal support is rarely sought anymore in Pennsylvania.  In the past, due to more stringent divorce laws, couples would separate but not divorce, or they would give their marriage a lengthy “cooling off” period before divorcing. Spousal support was paid during this interim so that the financially dependent spouse could maintain his or her lifestyle.

However, since the introduction of no-fault divorce in Pennsylvania, a divorce complaint is usually filed by one of the parties soon after separation. Once a divorce complaint is filed, then support will be classified as alimony pendente lite, rather than spousal support.  As a result, true orders for “spousal support” are increasingly uncommon.

Theoretically, spousal support can last indefinitely.  It terminates when a couple reconciles, or it can convert into alimony pendente lite when a divorce complaint is filed.  It would also terminate upon cohabitation by the recipient spouse, or death of either party.

2.  Alimony Pendente Lite

In general, alimony pendente lite (APL) is paid during the pendency of a divorce, from the time a lower-earning spouse formally requests it until a final decree in divorce is entered. It can continue after a divorce decree is entered through an appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, although such appeals are rare. In short, APL is paid during the divorce process. The purpose of APL is to help the lower-income spouse finance his or her living and legal expenses through the divorce.

In Pennsylvania, the average divorce takes about two years to litigate. Therefore, if your divorce is average, you can expect that APL will last for about two years.

APL can be limited in certain circumstances.  For example, in the case of a short-term marriage (about three years or less), the payor spouse can request that the court limit the duration of APL. In such cases, it is customarily limited to about six months. However, the exact length of time to which a court might limit APL would depend on the variety of factors, including the disparity of income between the parties and the complexity of the case.

APL might also be limited if the party receiving APL is intentionally delaying the divorce.  A big frustration for spouses who are paying APL is that some spouses drag out the divorce to keep the APL payments going. In those cases, the attorney for the payor spouse can request that the court intervene and either to put a stop to the foot-dragging, or limit the duration of APL.

3.  Alimony

Finally, the length of time that true post-divorce alimony lasts in Pennsylvania is technically dependent on a list of statutory factors.

Practically speaking, however, courts primarily look at four things: (1) the duration of the marriage; (2) the size of the marital estate, (3) how the marital estate is divided, and (4) if the payee spouse has any significant separate assets.

Each county in Pennsylvania also has their “rules of thumb.”  The judges in some counties are inclined to grant alimony for a longer period of time, and in others a shorter period of time. Therefore, it is difficult to make any broad generalizations because there are so many variables in situation and divorce.

However, as a general example, an “average” marriage of ten years with $200,000 in assets split 55/45 might result in a total of 2-3 years of alimony/support, inclusive of any time spent paying spousal support or APL.

For the most part, alimony is awarded for a fixed period of time. In some rare instances, such as where a spouse is disabled and cannot work, alimony can be awarded for an indefinite amount of time.

Further, regardless of length of time that alimony has been paid, most courts will terminate it upon the retirement of the payor spouse. As with spousal support and APL, unless agreed otherwise, alimony also terminates upon the cohabitation of the payee spouse or death of either party.