June 22 2010

Cooley & Handy Secures Extraordinary Stay of Alimony Pendente Lite Order Entered in Bucks County Divorce Proceedings from the Superior Court of Pennsylvania

Blog Written by  Alisa

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania took the rare step of staying a completely unprecedented and legally erroneous alimony pendente lite order entered against an ex-husband in a Bucks County divorce action by the Hon. Alan M. Rubenstein. The stay of the alimony pendente lite order was obtained through the efforts of the Bucks County divorce lawyers at Cooley & Handy. Alimony pendente lite is court-ordered support paid to a spouse while a divorce is pending, purportedly to help the spouse pay for litigation costs.

In the underlying Bucks County divorce case, the Bucks County divorce court purportedly "reinstated" a previously vacated (terminated) alimony pendente lite order against ex-Husband almost three years after the trial court entered final judgment in the parties' divorce and on all claims regarding the division of marital assets. The order was entered during post-divorce litigation over the parties' marital property settlement agreement and a prenuptial agreement that ex-wife had failed to produce during divorce proceedings. In short, the ongoing litigation concerned which contractual agreement – the marital settlement agreement or the prenuptial agreement – would control the distribution of the marital property and other claims. Notably, ex-wife had waived alimony pendente lite in both contracts. Nevertheless, the Bucks County divorce court erroneously awarded ex-wife alimony pendente lite in direct contravention to the terms of the contractual agreements and Pennsylvania law in a misguided and legally improper effort to make the post-divorce litigation "fair."

In ex-husband's appeal of the alimony pendente lite order, Cooley & Handy argued that the Bucks County divorce court's alimony pendente lite order was erroneous because (1) ex-wife waived alimony pendente lite in both the parties' marital property settlement agreement and the parties' prenuptial agreement and at least one of those contracts will be enforceable, and (2) entry of the divorce decree in the case three years earlier forever terminated ex-wife's claim to alimony pendente lite. In addition, the Bucks County divorce lawyers at Cooley & Handy argued that 23 Pa. C.S. 3105(c) statutorily precludes a trial court from altering or amending martial rights previously resolved by contractual agreement (i.e. the marital settlement agreement and the prenuptial agreement).

To obtain the stay of the alimony pendente lite order from Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Cooley & Handy argued that ex-husband would likely be successful in his appeal and would suffer irreparable harm if a stay were not granted. Ex-husband faced a very high burden to obtain a stay from the Superior Court, which grants stays judiciously. Cooley & Handy argued ex-husband would likely be successful in his appeal for the reasons set forth above.

With regard to irreparable harm, Cooley & Handy argued that ex-husband would suffer irreparable harm for several reasons. First, Cooley & Handy argued the trial court violated a clear statutory mandate (23 Pa. C.S. § 3105(c)) when it modified the terms of the parties' marital settlement and prenuptial agreements by "reinstating" alimony pendente lite, which constitutes irreparable harm per se. A violation of a statutory mandate is deemed to be irreparable harm per se. See, e.g., Capepiello v. Duca, 449 Pa. Super. 100, 107, 672 A.2d 1373, 1377 (1996). Second, Cooley & Handy argued that the trial court clearly exceeded its jurisdiction in awarding Ex-Wife alimony pendente lite after the parties' divorce and equitable distribution claims had been finally resolved and, as in the case of an explicit statutory violation, the exercise of power by a trial court in excess of its jurisdiction should be deemed irreparable harm per se. Finally, the Bucks County divorce lawyers at Cooley & Handy argued that the Superior Court had previously recognized that alimony pendente lite orders can result in the irreparable loss of rights where a divorce is not pending in Sutliff v. Sutliff, 326 Pa. Super. 496, 474 A.2d 599 (1984) and Fried v. Fried, 509 Pa. 89, 501 A.2d 211 (1985).

In a significant legal victory for ex-husband, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania granted ex-husband a stay of the alimony pendente lite order while the merits of his appeal are decided.

© 2010 Cooley & Handy

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