How Alimony and Spousal Support is Calculated in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, there are three types of support that a party to a divorce might be ordered to pay to a spouse: spousal support, alimony pendente lite, and alimony. All three are generally the same. The differences between them primarily relate to the stage in the divorce process in which the support is paid. Spousal support is monetary support paid to a spouse after separation but before a divorce is filed. Alimony pendente lite is monetary support paid to a spouse after a divorce is filed, but before the divorce is finalized. Alimony is monetary support paid to a spouse after the divorce is finalized. For simplicity, all three will be referred to simply as “alimony.”

Alimony, like child support, is calculated in Pennsylvania by a mathematical formula set forth in law. Also, like child support, there are many nuisances to the formula, which are not discussed here. However, in general, the amount of alimony payable from one party to the other depends on two factors: (1) the amount of child support payable, if any, and (2) the monthly after-tax incomes of the parties (net incomes).

If there are no minor children that will be covered by the support order (i.e., no child support is payable) then alimony is simply calculated by multiplying the difference between the parties’ net incomes by .40 (i.e., 40%). Net income includes income from any source, including wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, interest, rental income, etc. The only items that are deductible from the parties’ monthly gross incomes to arrive at the parties’ monthly net incomes are taxes, (federal, state, local, FICA) and union dues. Other common deductions from a party’s income or paycheck, such as 401(k) contributions, are added back in to determine the party’s monthly net income. The higher earning party is always the person who pays alimony. For example if a wife’s monthly after-tax net income is $5,000.00, and her husband’s monthly after-tax net income is $3,000.00, then the wife would owe the husband alimony in the amount of $800.00 per month ($5,000.00 - $3,000.00 = $2,000.00 x .40 = $800.00).

If there are children that are covered by a support order, then in the case where the party with the higher income is also the party responsible for paying child support, the amount of child support payable is first subtracted from the payor’s net income prior to calculating alimony. The amount of alimony payable is also only 30% of the difference in net incomes, rather than 40%. For example, if a husband and wife have two children, and the wife’s monthly after-tax net income is $5,000.00, and her husband’s monthly after-tax net income is $3,000.00, then the amount of child support payable from the wife to the husband (assuming the husband has primary physical custody of the children) would be approximately $1099.38 per month (see How Child Support is Calculated in Pennsylvania). Alimony payable from the wife to the husband would then be $270.19 per month ($5,000.00 - $1,099.38 - $3,000.00 = $900.62 x .3 = $270.19). The total support order, therefore, would be $1,369.57.

The formula is a bit more complicated if the party with the higher income is also the party who is entitled to receive child support (the party with primary physical custody of the children). In that case, alimony is first calculated using the formula for parties without minor children. Next, the parties’ net incomes are recomputed factoring in the alimony payments. Then, child support is calculated using the parties’ adjusted net incomes. Finally the net amount of support payable is calculated. For example, where the parties have two minor children, and the wife’s monthly after-tax net income is $5,000.00, and her husband’s monthly after-tax net income is $3,000.00, the amount of alimony payable from the wife to the husband would be $800.00 per month ($5,000.00 - $3,000.00 = $2,000.00 x .4 = $800.00). The parties’ net incomes factoring in the alimony payments would then be recomputed to be $4,200.00 per month and $3,800.00 per month respectively for wife and husband. Using those adjusted numbers, the husband would owe the wife $835.53 per month in child support. After offsetting the husband’s child support obligation with the alimony that the wife owes the husband, the net amount of child support due from husband to wife would be $35.53 per month ($835.53 - $800.00).

It is important to note that alimony is not necessarily payable in every case and, even when it is payable, is usually of a limited duration, the length of which is based on a variety of factors.

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