Alimony payments can be a source of contention for many couples, which contribute 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.
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.
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.
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 a few of the factors that judges must consider before making a determination:
- The income of both spouses
- Child support and alimony payments from previous marriages
- Child support from this marriage
- The financial needs of each spouse to cover bills and maintain a certain standard of living
- Tax considerations (The receiving spouse will count the payments as taxable income, while the paying spouse considers them to be tax-deductible.)
- Employment prospects for both spouses
- Length of the marriage (There is no minimum length to qualify for alimony, but longer marriages are more likely to qualify.)
- Other circumstances, such as adultery or abuse
Will Alimony Last Forever?
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.
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.