When a divorce decree has been entered, the court may allow alimony, as it deems reasonable, to either party only if it finds that alimony is necessary. 23 Pa.C.S. §3701(a). The court in ordering alimony must determine the duration of the order, which may be for a definite or an indefinite period of time which is reasonable under the circumstances. 23 Pa.C.S. §3701(c). In some counties, the duration of the alimony award is based upon the years of marriage, with a maximum duration or ceiling established for the payment of alimony — e.g., one year of alimony for every three years of marriage, up to a maximum of five (5) years.
The amount of alimony awarded to a party generally is reduced by the amount of spousal support previously received by that party from the defendant. The court also may approve an agreement for the payment of alimony voluntarily entered into between the parties. In those instances, the agreement shall constitute the order of the court and may be enforced like any other alimony order in the event of arrearages. 23 Pa.C.S. §3701(f). Further, in determining whether to award alimony, the court may consider the marital misconduct of either of the parties during the marriage and prior to the date of final separation. 23 Pa.C.S. §3701(b)(14).
In determining whether alimony is necessary and in determining the nature, amount, duration and manner of payment of alimony, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including:
An order of alimony is subject to further order of the court upon changed circumstances of either party of a substantial and continuing nature. The original alimony award may be modified, suspended, terminated or re-instituted or a new order made. Any further order shall apply only to payments accruing subsequent to the petition for the requested relief. 23 Pa.C.S. §3701(e)
Remarriage of the party receiving alimony shall terminate the award of alimony. 23 Pa.C.S. §3701(e). Further, no petitioner is entitled to receive an award of alimony where the petitioner, subsequent to the divorce pursuant to which alimony is being sought, has entered into cohabitation with a person of the opposite sex who is not a member of the family of the petitioner within the degrees of consanguinity. 23 Pa.C.S. §3706. Upon the death of the payee party, the right to receive alimony ceases. Upon the death of the payor party, the obligation to pay alimony ceases unless otherwise indicated in an agreement between the parties or an order of court. 23 Pa.C.S. §3707
Married persons are liable for the support of each other according to their respective abilities to provide support as provided by law. 23 Pa.C.S. §4321. Spousal support assures a reasonable living allowance for a dependent spouse. Marshall v. Marshall, 591 A.2d 1060 (Pa.Super. 1991). A spousal support award should be fair, nonconfiscatory, and attendant to the circumstances of the parties. Myers v. Myers, 592 A.2d 339 (Pa.Super. 1991). The duty of spousal support is common to both spouses, Ball v. Minnick, 606 A.2d 1181 (Pa.Super. 1992), and the obligation of support depends not on the sex of the petitioner but on the petitioner’s need in view of the relative financial circumstances of the parties. McWilliams v. McWilliams, 537 A.2d 35 (Pa.Super. 1988). Both spouses also are liable for the payment of debts contracted for necessaries by either spouse for the support and maintenance of the family. In all cases where debts are contracted for necessaries by either spouse for the support and maintenance of the family, it is lawful for the creditor to institute suit against the husband and wife for the price of such necessaries and, after obtaining a judgment, have an execution against the spouse contracting the debt alone; and, if no property of that spouse is found, execution may be levied upon and satisfied out of the separate property of the other spouse. 23 Pa.C.S. §4102. The scope of “necessaries,” for purposes of the Pennsylvania provision governing proceedings in case of debts contracted for necessaries, is not restricted to what may be considered the bare essentials required to hold body and soul together; things required for and suitable in light of the rank and position of the spouses to maintain their lifestyle are also included. 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 4102; In re Olexa, 476 F.3d 177 (3d Cir. 2007).
Parents are liable for the support of their children who are unemancipated and 18 years of age or younger. Parents may be liable for the support of their children who are 18 years of age or older, despite a rebuttable presumption that a parent’s legal obligation to pay child support ends when the child turns 18 or completes high school, whichever is later. 23 Pa.C.S. §4321.
Child and spousal support awards are made pursuant to a Statewide guideline as established by general rule by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, so that persons similarly situated shall be treated similarly. The support guideline is based upon the reasonable needs of the child or spouse seeking support and the ability of the obligor to provide support. In determining the reasonable needs of the child or spouse seeking support and the ability of the obligor to provide support, the guideline places primary emphasis on the net incomes and earning capacities of the parties, with allowable deviations for unusual needs, extraordinary expenses and other factors, such as the parties’ assets, as warrant special attention. The guideline so developed is reviewed at least once every four years. There exists a rebuttable presumption in any judicial proceeding that the amount of the award which would result from the application of such guideline is the correct amount of support to be awarded. 23 Pa.C.S. §4322.
An award of alimony pendente lite (APL) is designed to enable the dependent spouse to prosecute or to defend a divorce action. Orr v. Orr,315 Pa.Super. 168, 461 A.2d 850 (1983). It is also designed to help the dependent spouse maintain the standard of living enjoyed while living with the independent spouse. McNulty v. McNulty, 347 Pa.Super. 363, 500 A.2d 876 (1985). Therefore, a dependent spouse may be entitled to alimony pendente lite and counsel fees because both are necessary to maintain the divorce proceeding and a certain standard of living. This is particularly true when the dependent spouse is employed and attempting to complete an education. DeMasi v. DeMasi, 530 A.2d 871 (Pa.Super. 1987).
The differences between spousal support and APL relate to non-financial issues such as the effect of marital misconduct and the duration of payments. A spouse who is guilty of marital misconduct forfeits his/her claim to spousal support. However, such a spouse is still eligible for APL. See Hanson v. Hanson, 177 Pa. Super. 384, 110 A.2d 750 (1955). An award of APL is temporary. Upon the entry of a divorce decree, spousal support ends, but is automatically converted to APL if economic claims remain pending. With respect to the issue of financial need, a spouse petitioning for APL does not have to prove financial need in order to obtain an APL award. There is no distinction in the financial amount to be awarded for spousal support or APL: the amount to be awarded is presumed to be the same guideline amount for APL as well as spousal support. Irving v. Irving, 51 Ches. Co. L. Rep. 27 (Chester Co. 2003); Prud’homme v. Prud’homme, 48 Pa. D. & C. 4th 182 (Lehhigh Co. 2000). The calculation of the amount of spousal support and alimony pendente lite obligations is made pursuant to the formula appearing in Rule 1910.16-4 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.
If you, or a family member, have questions concerning child support, spousal support, alimony or alimony pendente lite and are in need of legal guidance, give the attorneys at Charles Law Offices a call at 610-437-7064, or fill out the questionnaire appearing on this page. Our staff of highly trained, knowledgeable and experienced trial attorneys is here 24/7 to guide you through this troubled time, and help you with all of your family law questions and issues. Since 1977, Charles Law Offices has successfully represented family law clients in child support, spousal support, alimony and alimony pendente lite matters. Attorneys Fredrick E. Charles and Dennis G. Charles are highly experienced and skilled trial attorneys with preeminent and distinguished reputations for legal advocacy. They will work diligently, meticulously and zealously to protect and effectively represent your legal interests, and achieve for you an optimal outcome in your family law case. Don’t settle for anything less!
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with a lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the attorneys at Charles Law Offices.
The Charles Brothers’ devotion to the law is derived from a family history in the legal system and of service to others. Their father, Charles “Chink” Charles (depicted in the lower left-hand corner of the photograph) held a 35 year career in law enforcement, and was selected to serve as the personal bodyguard for former United States Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson during their campaign visits to Allentown.