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Spousal Support

In Pennsylvania, support may be awarded to a spouse who earns less money or has a lower earning capacity than the other spouse. The three different types of support that may be awarded to a spouse are called spousal support, alimony pendente lite (also called APL) and alimony.

Spousal Support

Prior to the entry of a divorce decree (final order in divorce), support paid to a spouse is called "spousal support." Spousal support is generally not available if the parties live in same residence unless it can be established that one spouse fails to contribute to household expenses. In Pennsylvania, the amount payable for spousal support is based upon a percentage of the difference of after tax monthly incomes (after tax) or earning capacities of the parties after consideration of other support obligations. Pennsylvania law provides that if the spouse receiving spousal support (also known as the payee) has committed one of the fault-based grounds for divorce (as set forth above), the court has the right to refuse to award spousal support. The obligor’s (person paying support) right to raise the fault grounds is called an entitlement defense to the payment of the spousal support. In Pennsylvania, there is no fixed length of time that spousal support is payable. However, if the parties have been married for only a short period of time prior to their separation, the Pennsylvania family court can limit the duration of any spousal support (or alimony pendente lite) payments as well as the monthly amount payable.

Alimony Pendente Lite or APL

The amount payable under an APL order is based upon a percentage of the difference of after tax monthly incomes of the parties and after consideration of other support obligations. Pennsylvania family courts have held that the purpose of APL is to permit both spouses the financial ability to proceed in the divorce action. As such, the payer spouse cannot raise the entitlement defenses available in spousal support actions. In other words, even if the spouse seeking APL has committed adultery or has abandoned the marriage without a just cause, that spouse may be entitled to APL payments. "Pendente lite" is a Latin phrase meaning pending the litigation. As such, Pennsylvania APL orders generally last until the divorce decree has been entered and equitable distribution has been resolved. For the spouse receiving APL, this fact often causes them to attempt to prolong the entry of the divorce decree and finalization of equitable distribution as long as possible. On the other hand, the spouse required to make the APL payments is generally motivated to finalize the divorce and equitable distribution issues as soon as possible to limit the duration of APL payments.


In Pennsylvania, after a divorce decree has been entered and the equitable distribution has been decided, any support payable to a spouse would be considered "alimony." Pennsylvania law provides that alimony is only awarded if a spouse cannot meet their reasonable needs (the spouse's reasonable standard of living during the marriage) after their income and the assets they were awarded as part of equitable distribution are taken into consideration. Receipt of alimony is not guaranteed; an alimony award is within the discretion of the court unless an agreement is reached between the divorcing spouses.

Some situations in which alimony may be payable include those situations when the spouses have a great disparity in income, when the parties had a long-term marriage, when one spouse suffers from a mental or physical disability, or when one spouse primarily cares for minor children who are not yet of school age. Depending on the facts of a particular case, alimony can be awarded to allow a spouse a specific amount of time to "rehabilitate" himself or herself (often termed rehabilitative alimony), for the rest of that spouse's lifetime (often termed permanent alimony), or until a specific condition is met in the future. In Pennsylvania, alimony is usually terminated (unless the order or agreement provides other terminating conditions) when the recipient spouse begins residing with another person in a marriage-like relationship or when the recipient spouse remarries or dies.

Calculation of Spousal Support, APL, or Alimony

In calculating all forms of support payable to a spouse, consideration must first be given to whether the defendant in the support action has any orders for child support, the amount owed on each order, and whether there are any orders for support of a previous spouse. After consideration of the other orders, spousal support and alimony pendente lite are generally based upon a fixed percentage of the differences in the net incomes or earning capacities of the spouses. If child support is also involved, the fixed percentage is 30% and if child support is not involved the fixed percentage is 40%. In determining the amount of alimony to be awarded, fixed percentages of the differences of incomes or earning capacities are not utilized. Instead, the court will consider the reasonable needs of the dependent spouse and the amount of money needed to supplement the dependent spouse's income or earning capacity to meet those reasonable needs.

Tax Aspects of Pennsylvania Support Orders

Federal law states that if a spouse receives spousal support, APL, or alimony, the amount received is usually treated as income to the recipient and a deduction from income to the person paying alimony. In addition to the amount for support, if the payor spouse pays any additional amounts for payment on the mortgage, health insurance, or unreimbursed medical expenses, these additional payments may also be considered as payments for alimony under federal tax laws. If an individual is paying or receiving support in an unallocated order, it is best to consult with a tax advisor.

Pennsylvania Order For Health Insurance Coverage

In Pennsylvania, the issue of which spouse or parent should provide health insurance for the other spouse and/or children and whether the person carrying the insurance should be partially reimbursed for any costs associated with medical care are issues that can be resolved as part of a claim for support. However, upon the divorce, the health insurance policy covering the family no longer covers the former spouse who is not the policyholder. Employer-provided health insurance plans will only cover the employee-spouse after a divorce decree is entered by the court. A federal law requires most employer-sponsored group health plans to offer the non-employee spouse the right to purchase continued coverage at group rates for as long as three years after the divorce. This coverage is often referred to as "COBRA benefits." The divorced spouse of the employee must pay for the COBRA coverage at the employer's cost, not the discounted employee rate for said insurance.


If you or someone you love is involved in (or will become involved in) spousal support litigation in Harrisburg, York, or surrounding areas of Pennsylvania, please contact Kope and Associates for a free consultation. The family law attorneys at Kope and Associates have particular experience in the complicated laws surrounding spousal support. Contact us today and have immediate experience on your side.

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