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Spousal support in Pennsylvania: after the divorce decree

In our last post, we discussed how spousal support works for couples who are separated but are not yet legally divorced. In this post, we examine the specifics of financial support to an ex-spouse after the divorce is finalized. This type of payment is known as alimony.

While spousal support and alimony pendente lite payments are calculated using a fixed formula, the court considers a wide variety of criteria in determining how much an alimony payer will owe. In addition, the court has flexibility in deciding whether to order alimony payments at all, how long such payments must be made as well as the manner of payment. In particular, the court wants to know:

· How much does each spouse earn (or is each spouse able to earn)? Are there any impediments to earning capability-e.g., lack of education, custody of children?

· What are the sources of income of each spouse-including benefits and real or expected inheritance?

· How is the mental and physical health of each spouse?

· How long was the couple married?

· Was there any marital misconduct?

· How much separate property (i.e., non-marital property) does each spouse have?

· Did one spouse contribute to the marriage as a homemaker?

· Did one spouse support the other through additional education or training?

· What was the standard of living before the divorce?

The court's order of alimony may have an end date, and it may also be modified at a later date. However, the order will be automatically nullified if:

· The alimony payer dies-unless otherwise stated in the alimony order-or

· The alimony recipient dies, gets remarried or starts living with a non-familial person of the opposite sex.

Because there are no hard and fast rules that go into making an alimony determination, the judge has considerable freedom in deciding what type of arrangement is best. For this reason, it's especially important to have an experienced attorney advocating on your behalf throughout the divorce process.

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