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 a spouse: spousal support, alimony pendente lite, and alimony. The difference between them primarily relates to the stage in the divorce process in which support is paid.

For instance, spousal support is paid to a spouse after separation but before a divorce is filed. Alimony pendente lite (APL) is paid to a spouse after a divorce is filed, but before the divorce is finalized. Alimony is paid to a spouse after the divorce is finalized.

The higher-earning party is always the person who pays spousal support, alimony pendente lite and/or alimony.

The first of these two types of support -- spousal support and APL -- are determined based on a strict mathematical formula.

The third type – alimony -- is theoretically supposed to be determined based on a number of financial and life factors. Among them are:

          1.  The present earnings and the earnings capacities of both parties;

          2.  The ages, and the physical, mental and emotional conditions of the parties;

          3.  The sources of income of both parties, including medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits;

          4.  Any expectancies and inheritances;

          5.  The length of the marriage;

          6.  The contribution of one party to the other party’s education, training or increased earning power;

          7.  The standard of living established in the marriage;

          8.  The education and/or degrees of each party;

          9.  Assets, liabilities and property in the marriage or owned individually;

          10.  Relative needs of the parties;

          11.  Marital misconduct; and other factors.

In our practice, however, we have found that most courts give less weight to these factors than they ought to when determining the amount of alimony payable (as opposed to the length of time it is to be paid). Instead, they rely largely on the same mathematical formula used to calculate spousal support and APL. For all practical purposes, you should use the formula as a predictor of the alimony payable in your divorce matter. While you can urge your attorney to argue for factors that may be in your best interest (i.e. you supported your spouse while she/he got a medical degree, or your PTSD limits your ability to work), you should be aware that formulas are the de facto choice of most courts in awarding alimony.

There are many nuances to the support formula that are not discussed here. However, in general, the amount of alimony payable from one party to the other depends on: (1) the amount of child support payable, if any, and, (2) the monthly after-tax incomes of the parties (net incomes).

If there are children who are covered by a 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.

For example, if a wife’s monthly after-tax net income is $5,000 and her husband’s monthly after-tax net income is $3,000, then the wife would owe the husband alimony in the amount of $800 per month ($5,000 - $3,000 = $2,000 x .40 = $800).

If there are children who 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, and her husband’s monthly after-tax net income is $3,000, 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 - $1,099.38 - $3,000 = $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 and her husband’s monthly after-tax net income is $3,000, the amount of alimony payable from the wife to the husband would be $800 per month ($5,000 - $3,000 = $2,000 x .4 = $800). The parties’ net incomes factoring in the alimony payments would then be recomputed to be $4,200 per month and $3,800 per month respectively for wife and husband. Using those adjusted numbers, the husband would owe the wife $835.53 per month in child support. However, 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).

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.

NEXT ARTICLE:  How Long Does Alimony Last In PA?

 

 

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