What You Need to Know about Pennsylvania Alimony
According to Robin Williams, who was a famous American comedian, “… [the inventors of alimony] were going to call it ‘all the money,’ but they changed it to ‘alimony.’” While most comedians don’t really have a grasp on the legal system and why alimony is the way it is, Mr. Williams’ sentiment about alimony leaving people monetarily high and dry is certainly a popular train-of-thought in our society. But, is there truth to it? Is Pennsylvania alimony really designed to leave people supporting their ex-spouses for the rest of their lives?
Alimony is a post-divorce payment that, usually, the higher earning ex-spouse pays to the lesser earning ex-spouse. These payments are supposed to be based on true financial need by the receiving party, and should terminate when, perceivably, that need is destroyed – e.g. when your ex-spouse cohabitates with a new person of the opposite sex. While your marriage may be over, the need to support or receive support from your ex-spouse is, sometimes, still there. Groucho Marx, another American comedian, once said, “Alimony is like buying hay for a dead horse.” Though alimony is a little different, the joke is hilarious, nonetheless.
Whilst it may feel like the law is in favor of your higher earning ex-spouse supporting your lavish lifestyle for the rest of your life, in reality, there is no guarantee of alimony in Pennsylvania. In fact, alimony is more like a gift – it’s totally discretionary with the court and based on 17 different factors (check out the factors listed here). With that being said, if a spouse is seeking alimony, the spouse must specifically ask for it prior to the issuance of the divorce decree. In many online advertised “quickie” PA divorces, spouses may end up giving away their rights to ask for alimony because the issue was not raised at the proper time. Depending on which side of the issue you fall, this may be good or bad.
Wanna learn more? The following is a list of four common questions that are posed to our firm about alimony:
1) Is it true that I have to have been married for several years to be eligible for alimony?
Nah. Not true. The length of your marriage is just one of the 17 factors that the court considers when dishing out alimony. As a rule of thumb, though, generally, the longer the marriage the more likely the court is to grant alimony – that is, assuming the other 16 factors align. But, there is no minimum marriage measurement. So, if you got married on February 14, and decided you wanted a divorce on February 16, alimony isn’t out of the question. It’s up to the court to decide.
2) How much can I expect my alimony payment to be each month?
As much as we would like to tell you how much the court would award for alimony, we simply cannot. Unless you and your ex-spouse have a preexisting agreement about alimony payments, there is no way to predict how much the payments will be – or if there will be any payments at all! Unfortunately, how much alimony is issued will depend largely on the case your attorney presents during trial and the judge’s or divorce master’s mood – ugh. Because of this unpredictable nature, mediation is a good alternative to trial for issues such as this. In mediation, you and your ex-spouse would be able to sit down and chat in order to reach the best resolution.
3) How long will I have to make/receive these alimony payments?
The only thing predictable about alimony is that it is unpredictable. Because alimony is purely discretionary with the court, there is no set time period for paying alimony in Pennsylvania. So, how can you plan for your financial future if you are unaware of how long you will be making or receiving alimony payments? Well, it’s important to carefully consider all aspects of alimony during the negotiation period and during trial. Consider: the recipient spouse’s future financial needs, what the payor spouse’s ability to pay is, and long term financial goals for both parties.
For example, a common type of alimony in Pennsylvania is called “rehabilitative alimony.” Rehabilitative alimony occurs when the recipient spouse only receives alimony payments for a certain period of time – just enough time after the divorce to become financially independent, knockout current debt, and/or train themselves for a new career in a different field. If this sort of alimony is awarded, then the payments should only last for a certain period of time and then stop completely.
4) Am I entitled to one year of alimony for every three years of marriage?
If we had a nickel for every time we heard this question, we would probably be rich. In many Pennsylvania county courts, there is an unspoken rule – not a law – that a recipient spouse should receive one year of alimony for every three years of marriage. While this unspoken rule is helpful to a case for alimony, it certainly does not put the nail in the coffin – remember what we said about alimony being unpredictable? Before even determining how long a recipient spouse should receive alimony, first, the court must determine if alimony is appropriate. Then, the one to three year “rule” is merely a starting point for negotiation and argument. Ultimately, the final determination could be more or less than the one to three years “rule.”
We understand that Pennsylvania alimony can lead to some very murky water. But, we know just what you need in order to build the best case – whichever side of the issue on which you fall. Give us a call today and we can schedule an appointment to binge watch American comedians talking about alimony. Surprisingly, there are a lot. Chris Rock and Mike Epps, anyone?
… okay… we won’t really binge watch anything…
*Our office accepts Pennsylvania family law cases including divorce, equitable distribution, spousal support, alimony pendente lite, alimony, paternity and child support matters, child custody cases, juvenile law cases, and related matters in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Beaver County, Berks County, Butler County, Clearfield County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County (Greensburg).
Our law firm accepts Pennsylvania family law cases from other Pennsylvania counties including Armstrong County (Kittanning), Clarion County, Fayette County, Greene County, Indiana County, Lawrence County, Mercer County, Somerset County, and Venango County.*