Alimony payments can be a source of contention for many couples, which contributes to the turmoil that most people feel during a divorce. One spouse often feels entitled to financial support, while the other prefers not to part with their hard-earned cash, or to support someone that they are no longer married to. Therefore, the process of qualifying for and receiving alimony is frequently misunderstood by both parties.
In Pennsylvania, there are some clear rules about how alimony payments should be handled. While judges are making a decision about whom will qualify, there are a few grey areas for judges. However, many of the standards are already set in stone. If you have been wondering how to proceed with requesting alimony payments or how to avoid paying them, you need to know how the state handles this type of support.
The Basics of Alimony
Before you know whether or not you qualify, you should really be aware of what alimony is. These monthly payments are ordered by a judge to help a spouse pay their financial obligations each month.
Alimony is often granted to a stay-at-home spouse, who sacrificed a career or schooling to support the other spouse’s career. It is meant to give this spouse some temporary financial relief while he or she looks into gainful employment, or the training he or she would need to obtain a position that can pay the bills and maintain a similar standard of living.
Alimony payments are ordered after the divorce is finalized. Pennsylvania also has two other types of payments that could be ordered. Spousal support is a payment given after the separation, but before the divorce is set in motion. Alimony pendente lite is a payment given while the divorce is pending.
At any given time, you may only receive one of these three payments. The court order must specify the amount of money that the receiving spouse will get each month, which keeps the number from fluctuating due to one spouse’s spending habits in a given time period.
Types of Alimony in Pennsylvania
There are three types of alimony that can be awarded when you divorce in Pennsylvania. They include:
1. Rehabilitative Alimony – This is paid by one ex-spouse to another and is paid for a specific purpose. It is typically paid for a short period of time. It is meant to allow the receiver to get trained in a job or get a certificate in a chosen field of employment. This way, the spouse can return to the workforce and increase their ability to be self-sufficient. This alimony is paid in tandem with the second type of alimony you can receive, which is described next.
2. Durational or Permanent Alimony – The name of the latter suggests that it will be paid by the payor until they or the spouse receiving it passes away. However, this is not the case in Pennsylvania any longer. Most alimony payouts in PA now come with durations that are finite. It may be paid over a number of years, or an event such as retirement that causes the payments to come to an end, and the duration to be completed. This variety of alimony is paid by the spouse who makes a higher income to the lower income spouse in order to make the time between being married to being single an easier process. This allows both parties to live in such a way that looks similar to the life they lived before divorce took place.
3. Reimbursement Alimony – Suppose that during your marriage you and your spouse decided he or she would go to work while she or he went to school to become qualified in a field of employment like medicine or education. The latter was supported by their spouse while the former worked and kept up on all bills and expenses. Now that the graduation process has happened and they found someone else, reimbursement alimony comes into play. This recognizes the monies you spent in an effort to support your spouse while you contributed to the household, allowing you to recoup some of what you had spent.
Keep in mind, you can receive more than one type of alimony in Pennsylvania.
How Is Alimony Calculated in Pennsylvania?
Some states make sure the actual calculations for alimony are a little vague, but Pennsylvania very clearly outlines them for couples with or without dependents. The formula is designed to balance the needs of both spouses, in order to prevent the spouse who is ordered to pay from being overwhelmed. This system of checks and balances is also there to prevent the receiving spouse from requesting more money than he or she needs.
If a couple has dependent children, the paying spouse’s income is considered first. You must subtract any support, alimony payments to former spouses, and child-support payments from previous marriages. This remainder includes the receiving spouse’s income and any child-support payments made for children from this marriage. The receiving spouse could be entitled to up to thirty percent of the final difference.
If the couple has no dependent children, the receiving spouse could be entitled to slightly more alimony. The paying spouse’s monthly net income (minus any child support or alimony from previous marriages, and the receiving spouse’s income) gives the court a great baseline. In this situation, the receiving spouse might be entitled to up to forty percent of the difference.
What Factors Are Taken into Consideration during Alimony?
When a judge has to consider whether or not a spouse qualifies for alimony payments, he or she might take a look at the marriage as a whole. Individual factors and the quality of the marriage can help make a determination about who is eligible for alimony.
Here are just some of the factors that judges must consider before making a determination:
• How much each spouse currently earns, and how much they might be able to earn in the future
• The ages and mental/physical health of each spouse
• Where each spouse’s income comes from – investments, savings, other income
• How long each party is expected to live and if any inheritances are expected
• How long the marriage lasted
• If one spouse supported or contributed to the other in getting an advanced college degree, which increased their potential for earning
• If one party is at home raising the kids, and as a result was unable to work and earn enough money to cover the expenses, or if that party’s expenses are larger because of the cost of raising children
• The marital lifestyle both parties created while together
• Education levels of each spouse, how long it would take a less educated spouse to reach a higher level of education to become independent
• Each party’s assets and liabilities
• Which assets each spouse brought and how they can be separated once divorce is final
• The contributions each spouse made in keeping the marital home in good standing/repair
• What each party needs financially in order to live after the divorce takes place
• If abuse or adultery was part of this marriage
• The tax ramifications of alimony payments
• If the dependent spouse – the one asking for alimony – has no sufficient assets to keep their own needs met
• If the party asking for alimony lacks the ability to work and support themselves
Will Alimony Last Forever?
There are no guidelines about the length of time that a spouse could be entitled to the monthly payment, which does not even specifically detail who is entitled to alimony. Special circumstances could cause a judge to deviate from these typical parameters for deciding alimony payment amounts. The formulas are not set in stone, because they often involve a negotiation process that includes several other eligibility factors as mentioned above.
Most paying spouses want to hear that their alimony payments will cease on a certain date. However, Pennsylvania does not have a set law regarding how long alimony is allowed to last after the divorce is finalized. Many of these issues are left up to the judge’s discretion, based on factors that are presented in the case. Some payments might have an end date, in order to give the other spouse an opportunity to find a job, go back to school, gain further training, or do something else to gain financial stability.
In other cases, alimony payments might be permanent. For instance, a spouse could have a disability that renders him or her unable to work.
Alimony payments will typically end when the receiving spouse gets remarried or moves in with a new romantic partner. They will also usually end when either spouse passes away. However, the paying spouse may still be obligated to continue making as many of those payments as possible after death depending on the court order.
Common Questions About Alimony in Pennsylvania
Below are some of the most common questions people going through divorce ask as they complete the process.
1. How Long Do I Have to Be Married to Get Alimony in Pennsylvania?
The length of your marriage is indeed one of the 17 factors used in Pennsylvania alimony calculations. The longer the marriage, the greater the case for alimony, provided other relevant factors are present. However, there is no minimum length of time that a spouse must be married in order to be eligible for alimony.
2. How Much Do People Typically Get When Obtaining Alimony In Pennsylvania?
There is no way to predict what your payout will be, or if you will get one at all. This is determined by way of legal counsel and litigating the issue in the courts. There are too many different variables and contingencies involved in order to answer this right away.
More often than not, the real reason behind alimony is lost when spouses make the decision to litigate in court, because they care so much about winning and losing. Some spouses choose to utilize mediation as one method of determining who will get what, if anything is paid out. This also helps cut down on attorney costs too.
3. How Long Do I Have to Pay Alimony?
As mentioned previously, there is really no set time segment for paying alimony in PA. It is all purely discretionary and dependent upon each individual’s situation. To be certain if you will end up paying alimony, you and your spouse should examine your particular circumstances and what the future needs of the receiving spouse will be, as well as the payor spouse’s ability to make such payments.
4. Do I Get One Year of Alimony for Every Three Married Years?
This is a common misnomer in the world of alimony in Pennsylvania. In many county courts in PA, there is an unspoken rule that a recipient should get one year of alimony for every three years they were married. Keep in mind this is not a law.
You will certainly want to approach your legal counsel for advice about how this will be handled in your specific situation. After all, it will be up to the court to determine if alimony is awarded. The 1 to 3 ratio is merely a way to start negotiations before whomever is helping you finalizes your divorce. You may decide upon more or less as negotiations go on.
5. How Is Alimony Taxed?
In Pennsylvania, alimony used to be deductible to the spouse making the payments and was included as income on the taxes of the spouse who was getting the payout. Now, however, alimony payments will no longer be deductible for the payor and not taxable to the recipient in the state of Pennsylvania. This law took effect December 31, 2018.
How to Avoid Paying Alimony in Pennsylvania
Most people would like to do anything they can to get out of paying alimony. Fortunately, there are several ways that you might be able to reduce or shorten your payments. Remember that you should never attempt to skirt your legal obligations to pay alimony, as it can result in serious legal action.
Instead, you should consider a few of these tips to help you save money on the cost of alimony in Pennsylvania. Some of them can help prevent you from being ordered to pay alimony, while others might simply reduce the amount.
To determine what the next right steps in your divorce might be, think about the situation surrounding your divorce, and try one of these tactics:
Prove marital misconduct.
The first way to avoid paying alimony is to prove misconduct during your marriage or separation. The two major issues that most judges will consider during alimony trials are abuse and adultery.
However, you will need more than simply your word to prove these accusations. Therefore, be sure that you have photographic evidence or police reports, which demonstrate the validity of your claims.
It could be painful for you to come up with the necessary evidence to prove misconduct, so be emotionally prepared to handle it. To work through those feelings, you may need to enlist the help of a therapist or counselor.
Show that your spouse does not need the money.
Some spouses will request alimony payments, even though they do not need the money. If you can show that your spouse is not in need of those alimony checks, you might be able to forego making them.
You will need to find proof that your spouse has some large personal assets or trust funds, which can bankroll them without your alimony payments. Since these assets might be hidden, be sure to do your research if you feel that your spouse might have hidden money.
Have your spouse’s employability evaluated.
Is your spouse pretending like he or she does not have the skills necessary to sustain a well-paying position? A judge can have your spouse’s training and skills evaluated, in order to determine what type of position he or she is currently able to maintain.
This evaluation will prove whether or not your spouse purposely took a low-paying position to justify receiving alimony payments from you. It may even prove that he or she has been lying about his or her inability to obtain a job, based on his or her qualifications.
A judge might be able to rule that your spouse is more than capable of obtaining a job now, without the schooling he or she claims to need. Alternatively, a judge might find that he or she could get a well-paying job without as much additional training as your spouse is claiming to need.
Scale back your living expenses and income.
When you look at the formula for how Pennsylvania alimony is generally calculated, you will notice that your net income is the first consideration. You could choose to lower your monthly income, and scale back your living expenses. Therefore, there will be little to nothing left to pay your spouse at the end of the month.
This savvy move does require extensive financial planning, because you need to be certain that you can pay your bills on a lower salary. If you opt to try this tactic, it is advisable to hire a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, who can help you make a new budget and ensure that your financial obligations will be met.
End your marriage sooner.
Many divorce attorneys reference the “one for three” rule during an alimony dispute. In other words, a spouse will receive one year of alimony for every three years that the marriage lasted. While it is a helpful rule of thumb for attorneys and judges, it is not necessarily guaranteed.
The length of time that you are required to pay alimony could be longer or shorter, r depending on the unique considerations and factors in your case. The odds are that your alimony payments will last longer if your marriage lasts longer. This truism is a great incentive for ending an unhappy marriage early, if you do not think that you will be able to resolve your differences.
Understanding Your Alimony Payments
Before you head to court, it is essential for you to understand what your rights could be when it comes to alimony payments. The Pennsylvania court system has some clear guidelines that judges will use when calculating your alimony payments, but every case is unique. Present all of the information about why you feel entitled to alimony to your attorney, so he or she can begin building the best case possible for you.
If you are the paying spouse, make sure you know how to legally find ways to prove that your spouse does not need the money. Therefore, it is a great idea to prove that he or she can support himself or herself without your financial assistance. To help you prevent your former spouse from taking any of your hard-earned cash, consider some of the financially savvy strategies above.
By understanding ahead of time what the alimony process will look like, you could stand on firmer financial footing. Therefore, arm yourself with all of the paperwork and documents you need to have a successful outcome.