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Spousal Support Determinations in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania law defines "spousal support" as "care, maintenance and financial assistance" from one spouse to the other. Temporary spousal support received while a divorce is pending is "alimony pendent lite" or APL, which ends when the divorce becomes final. Thereafter, spousal support granted in a final divorce order for payment after the parties are divorced is called "alimony."

Alimony Pendent Lite

The goal of APL in Pennsylvania is to even the playing field between two spouses during the pendency of a divorce so they are on equal financial footing to assert their positions in negotiations or litigation. The court may not consider marital misconduct in setting APL. For example, a Pennsylvania court did not find it fatal to a claim for APL that the wife receiving it was living with another man during the pendency of the divorce.

APL is determined by a statewide guideline set by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the guideline must be reviewed at least every four years. The numerical formula is based on the "reasonable needs" of the receiving spouse and the ability of the paying spouse to pay, as determined by "net incomes and earning capacities."

Items considered in the guideline calculation are:

  • Whether there are dependent children
  • Monthly net incomes
  • Paying spouse's support obligations to previous spouses or children
  • Child support in the current divorce matter
  • Certain other expenses like mortgage payments, child care, health insurance and medical costs

Deviation from the guidelines is allowed for "unusual needs, extraordinary expenses and other factors, such as the parties' assets, as warrant special attention." The guideline amount is presumed correct, but may be rebutted if the judge finds on the record that it "would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case." Certain factors are to be considered in a deviation question, including the length of the marriage.


Alimony payable after the divorce is not set according to a statewide guideline, rather the court must consider all relevant factors and can order reasonable alimony (of a definite or indefinite time period) only if necessary. Some of the factors the court must consider include:

  • Income and earning capacity
  • Age and health
  • Inheritances
  • Duration of marriage
  • Contribution of one spouse to the education of the other
  • Marital standard of living
  • Premarital property
  • Assets and liabilities
  • Education
  • How long it will take for the dependent spouse to find appropriate work or whether the dependent spouse is not able to work
  • Marital misconduct and spousal abuse
  • Tax consequences

Should the Guidelines Also Apply to Alimony?

Some legal commentators question why Pennsylvania mandates a support guideline only for temporary spousal support while a divorce is pending, but not for regular alimony after the divorce is final. The statewide guideline for APL is meant to bring uniformity to people in similar situations and for efficiency. Certainly those goals seem wise for regular alimony also, so long as a deviation is still allowed for unusual situations.

If you face a divorce, be sure to consult an experienced family law attorney as early as possible in the process to understand your options and rights.