Whether you are unemployed, under employed or are simply the lower-earning spouse in a marriage, the cost of getting divorced in Pennsylvania is an important concern faced by those who are seeking a divorce. Our attorneys often encounter clients who sacrificed their careers for the sake of the union, either by opting to work part-time or to stay at home to care for children. Such a decision, however, often made years earlier, can place a spouse at a serious financial disadvantage.
Once divorce papers are filed, the “bread-winner” of the marriage often begins to use his or her financially-superior position to dictate how the parties should divide their assets, share custody of their children, and so forth. The lower-earning spouse sometimes feels that she or he has no other option but to accept these dictates.
This fear is unfounded. Pennsylvania divorce law provides several practical options for spouses who find themselves in this circumstance.
In Pennsylvania, lower-earning spouses have the right to seek financial support from the higher-earning spouse, both during separation and through the pendency of the divorce. This type of support is called either Spousal Support or Alimony Pendente Lite (“APL”). The purpose of APL is to ensure that both parties have the financial ability to retain legal counsel and proceed in a divorce action. In other words, even if you have very few financial resources on your own, you may be able to receive support so that you can hire your own attorney—someone who will represent your best interests and help you to afford a divorce.
The amount of APL that your spouse may owe you is based on a percentage of the difference in after-tax income between the higher-earning spouse and the lower-earning spouse, along with other factors. The Pennsylvania Support Guidelines dictate the amount for which a payor spouse will be obligated. APL may be awarded even if both spouses remain living in the same home during your separation. In fact, even if you have committed some other legal misconduct related to the marriage (like adultery), you can still seek and receive APL if you are the lower-earning spouse.
Cooley & Handy strongly believes that it is essential that you attempt to establish your financial independence during the pendency of your divorce. Of course, once the marriage has legally ended (i.e. equitable distribution matters are finalized and a divorce decree has been entered), you may be granted further support.
Support awarded to you after the marriage has ended is called “alimony.” Contrary to popular myth, there are not necessarily any hard-and-fast rules as to how alimony is awarded. Rather, the court will determine whether you can meet your reasonable needs (according to the marital lifestyle), and will take into consideration your income and the amount of marital assets that you received in equitable distribution.
Alimony is often awarded in cases where there is a large disparity in the parties’ incomes, where one party has physical or mental deficiencies, where the marriage was long-term, and under other circumstances.
Alimony generally terminates when the person receiving the alimony begins living with another party with whom they are romantically involved, or when the payee remarries, or passes away.
Consequently, although it may seem like there is no way that you can financially afford a divorce and support yourself thereafter, there are several legal mechanisms that can assist you in getting through this difficult process.
Contact the Divorce attorneys at Cooley & Handy to discuss your options.
Cooley & Handy are Bucks County Divorce Lawyers, Montgomery County Divorce Lawyers and Philadelphia County Divorce Lawyers.