What is alimony? In Pennsylvania, the term “alimony” generally refers to monthly payments that are made to support a former spouse after the divorce has been completed and the marital property has been divided. Alimony is different from “spousal support” (which refers to payments made when spouses are separated, regardless of whether a divorce action has been filed) or “alimony pendente lite” (which refers to payments made while the divorce litigation is ongoing). 

What are the purposes of alimony? Alimony may serve one or more purposes. “Permanent alimony” provides a stable income to a dependent spouse who is unemployable due to advanced age, disability, or lack of education and work experience. “Periodic alimony” may be warranted where a dependent spouse or his or her custodial children have unmet needs. “Rehabilitative alimony” enables a dependent spouse whose education or career was disrupted by the marriage to return to school or retrench his or her career. “Reimbursement alimony” compensates a dependent spouse who supported the family while his or her spouse earned a professional degree or built a successful family business.

How is alimony calculated? In Pennsylvania, alimony is a secondary remedy which is awarded in cases where the division of marital property does not provide sufficient economic resources to enable a dependent spouse to achieve self-support through appropriate employment. In determining whether a spouse should receive alimony, the court must focus on a list of seventeen (17) factors promulgated in the Divorce Code.  Of foremost significance are the dependent spouse’s reasonable needs, income and earning capacity.  The court must consider the parties’ assets, including marital property received in equitable distribution. Even where a dependent spouse receives the lion’s share of marital property, however, the court may award alimony to provide sufficient income to meet his or her reasonable needs. The needs of the custodial children also must be considered.

What special factors may be considered? Several of the statutory factors relate to the income and employability of the parties. Where the husband was a sole shareholder of a corporation and there was evidence of manipulation and control of assets and income, the court looked to corporate earnings (and not merely personal income) as the true reflection of Husband’s earning capacity.  On the other hand, the age, health, education and work experience of the dependent spouse may hinder her employability and/or ability to accumulate retirement funds.  A dependent spouse is not required to accept any employment, but only appropriate employment consistent with his or her standard of living and station in life. As with property distribution, the court must consider the income tax ramifications of the alimony award. Other factors enumerated in the Divorce Code contemplate the “equities” of the case, including the parties’ respective contributions to property acquisition or increased earning power, their standard of living, duration of the marriage and marital misconduct. The parties’ standard of living during the marriage is probative to determine the dependent spouse’s reasonable needs.

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