Fifty years ago, when women had fewer career options than they do today, it was typical for divorce settlements to include alimony orders. A lot has changed since then in the workplace and in marriage, but alimony still exists in Pennsylvania law and it plays an important part in many divorces, for both men and women.
Alimony consists of payments from one spouse to another to help the financially dependent spouse meet their financial needs. Pennsylvania courts do not automatically award alimony. One party must ask for it.
In some cases, Pennsylvania courts will require temporary spousal support or “alimony pendente lite” to provide a dependent spouse with income before the divorce is finalized. Technically, the term “alimony” refers to payments after the divorce.
Courts don’t have one set formula or determining whether alimony is necessary. Rather, they consider a long list of factors, including:
- The duration of the marriage
- The earning capabilities and separate assets of the parties
- The standard of living during the marriage
- The contributions of the spouses to maintaining the home and caring for any children
- Whether one spouse contributed to the other’s education or earning power during the marriage
- The needs of the dependent spouse and the ability of the other spouse to pay
If they determine alimony is necessary, courts will also determine the amount of the payments, their nature and manner (monthly, quarterly, lump-sum, etc.) as well as the duration of the order.
How long does an alimony order last?
Generally, alimony orders in Pennsylvania are temporary. Courts may order so-called permanent alimony in cases involving a spouse who is unable to work due to illness or injury, but in most cases, alimony is intended to help the dependent spouse until they can become financially independent.
In some cases, there may be a firm deadline on an alimony order. In others, the duration of the order is tied to certain milestones, such as the dependent spouse’s graduation from college or a training program.
Determining alimony without the court
So far in this blog post, we’ve been discussing how courts decide on alimony matters, but the truth is that most Pennsylvania divorces are resolved outside of court through mediation or another form of negotiation. In these out-of-court settlements, the spouses have a lot of freedom to come up with their own solutions to issues in property division, and they can come up with their own plans for alimony.
Coming up with these plans on your own can be a lot of work, and it may not be easy to reach an agreement with your ex. However, doing this out of court gives both you and your ex a lot more control over the outcome than you would have if you left matters up to a judge. It may also be faster and save you money in court fees.