Alimony in Pennsylvania

The Right Amount of Alimony Can Help You Secure Your Future

Your financial security is key to obtaining the future you imagine. Getting the amount and length of alimony right, whether you are receiving or paying it, is key.

In this particular area of law, local customs and “rules of thumb” guide outcomes. That’s why local knowledge and experience is critical.

Our divorce attorneys have years of experience in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, and will work with you to analyze your financial situation to determine whether you will be receiving or paying alimony, for how long, and in what amount. We’ll help you anticipate your financial future, so you can plan accordingly.

What You Need to Know About Spousal Support and Alimony in Bucks County, PA

What is the difference between spousal support, alimony pendente lite, and alimony?

In Pennsylvania, a higher earning spouse may have an obligation to pay support to the lower earning spouse in certain circumstances. Support between spouses is ordered based on earnings/income alone without regard to whether the higher earning spouse is male or female. Indeed, many women now have to pay their husband’s alimony because they earn more money.

Spousal Support and Alimony pendente lite are pre-divorce support paid by a higher earning spouse to a lower earning spouse.  Spousal support is the term used when no divorce is pending, and there are some legal “defenses” or reasons why a higher earning spouse may not have to pay support to a lower earning spouse. Alimony pendente lite (“APL”), on the other hand, is the term used when a divorce is pending and there are no defenses available to the higher earning spouse.  The main purpose of APL is to assist the lower earning spouse to afford his/her divorce litigation.

Alimony is post-divorce payments to a lower earning spouse and the court decides how much alimony is awarded in PA and how long alimony lasts in PA as part of the overall divorce process.

How to Apply for Spousal Support or Alimony Pendente Lite in Bucks County, PA

Spousal support and APL are filed as a separate complaint with Bucks County Domestic Relations Office; whereas, Alimony is a count included in a divorce complaint.  After a party files the spousal support or APL support complaint, the Bucks County Office of Domestic Relations will schedule a support conference, usually scheduled 4-6 weeks after the complaint.  The parties will attend that support conference alone if they did not hire counsel, or with their attorneys if they hired one.  At the conference, the conference officer will obtain information about the parties, including each party’s respective income, and will make a recommendation about how much support should be paid.  If the parties agree with that recommendation, the parties sign an agreement that day, and within a few weeks payments will begin.  If the parties do not agree, then the conference office will schedule the case for a hearing before a Bucks County Judge, which usually occurs 4-6 weeks after the initial conference.

How Spousal Support or Alimony Pendente Lite is Calculated in Bucks County

The Court calculates spousal support and APL based on a state-wide formula which calculates the support amount according to differences between the parties’ incomes.  Income includes all money received from any source, but most people only receive money from employment.  If one party alleges that another is not working to his/her fullest capacity, that party alleging under-employment can ask the Court to assign an “earning capacity” to the other person for purposes of calculating support.  Spousal support is paid as long as the parties are married, and surprisingly some spouses remain “married” but living in separate homes and maintaining separate lives for many years without pursuing a divorce.   APL is paid only while a divorce is pending and ends when the Court enters a final decree in divorce, or converts to alimony, if alimony was part of the parties’ marital settlement agreement, or otherwise ordered by the Court.

How the Payment of Healthcare Premiums and Unreimbursed Medical Expenses Works in Divorce in PA

The Court will order the spouse who provided healthcare coverage during the marriage to continue that coverage until the final decree in divorce, unless the parties agree otherwise.   Spouses will share the cost of the healthcare premium in proportion to their incomes.  If the higher earning spouse provides the healthcare, then the spousal support or APL will be reduced by the other’s spouse’s share of the premium to account for his/her reimbursement to that spouse.  If the lower earning spouse provides the healthcare, then the higher earning spouse’s share of the premium will be added to his/her obligation to account for his/her reimbursement to the other spouse.

Unreimbursed medical expenses incurred by the lower earning spouse will also be shared in proportion to the parties’ incomes; however, the lower earning spouse must pay the first $250 per year of any such expenses before apportioning the balance.

How the Court Decides How Long Alimony Will it Last in Pennsylvania

Alimony is sometimes referred to as a “secondary remedy”.  This means that the Court will consider whether to award alimony or not after considering the amount, value, and distribution of marital assets, and may sometimes only award alimony if the division of the assets will not provide sufficient support for the lower earning spouse.  If the Court awards alimony, it must consider several factors to determine the amount and duration of alimony.  Some Courts, like Bucks County, follow general guidelines for how they will determine this issue.  Bucks County, for example, will often follow a general “rule of thumb” of awarding 1 year of total support (total time of Spousal Support/APL and alimony together) for every 3 years of marriage.  Alimony will continue for the duration of the term set by the Court, but will end sooner if the person receiving support dies, the person paying support dies, or the person receiving support cohabitates with a romantic partner or remarries.   More often than not, alimony is modifiable, which means it can be increased or decreased, if either party experiences a substantial change in his/her income or other financial circumstances during the term of alimony.

How Spousal Support/APL/Alimony is Paid is Paid in PA

After the Court determines the support amount, the Office of Domestic Relations will send the information about the support order to the Pennsylvania State Collection and Disbursement Unit (PASCDU) to implement the order.  The vast majority of the time, a person pays his/her support obligation through “wage attachment”.  PASCDU sends a separate Court Order to the payor’s employer telling the employer how much to collect from the payor’s wages each pay period.  The employer then sends that amount to PASCDU, who then transfers the amount to the payee.  Most payees choose to set up direct deposit to receive their support directly into their bank account, and they receive their support payments on more or less the same pay cycle as the payor.

If a person is self-employed, then PASCDU will not issue a wage attachment order, and that person will pay his/her support to PASCDU who then issues the payment to the payee.

If parties want to pay support directly between themselves, the Office of Domestic Relations will not enter the support order in its office, and that office will not monitor the case for non-payment.  However, the support agreement can be recognized as an Order by filing the written agreement with the Court to be signed by the assigned Judge.

What Happens When Support/APL/Alimony Payments Are Not Made

If a person does not make the payments he/she is ordered to pay, that person can be found in Contempt of the Order.  The Office of Domestic Relations can pursue automatic remedies for non-payment, if the Order is being administered by that office.  The Office can intercept tax refunds, suspend drivers’ licenses, hunting licenses, and other licenses.  The Office can also file a Petition for Contempt asking the Judge to issue fines, order the non-paying party to a jail term, or to pay a lump sum toward any unpaid amount.  In addition, the person receiving support can file a private Petition for Contempt to address any issues relating to the non-payment of support, and ask the Court to employ any or all of the above remedies to ensure payment of the support obligation.

Whether you are the person who may have a support obligation to your spouse, or you are the spouse who has a right to receive support, the attorneys at Cooley & Handy have the necessary experience to guide you and represent you through the entire support process.