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Pennsylvania alimony law gives judges discretion with direction

A major issue in most divorces is whether one spouse will have to pay alimony for support to the other spouse. People often negotiate the resolution of the issue of alimony when divorcing and include it in a settlement agreement. Or, the parties may have predetermined alimony as a term of a prenuptial agreement.

If not agreed upon by the parties, the judge in a Pennsylvania divorce must decide whether to award alimony and the terms of the award such as the amount of payments and its duration.

Pennsylvania law is still fairly traditional when it comes to alimony, leaving much discretion to the court in crafting an award and allowing a preset duration or even indefinite duration when reasonable. Some other states have stricter limits on when it can be awarded and for how long after recent alimony reform movements critical of requiring payment into retirement or of lifetime duration.

What does Pennsylvania alimony law allow?

First, a judge cannot grant alimony in Pennsylvania if the would-be recipient is living with someone of the opposite sex who is not a relative.

The judge in a divorce can order alimony only if it is reasonable and necessary. To make alimony decisions, he or she must look at every relevant factor, including 17 listed in statute. Some of these listed factors include:

  • Whether the recipient could support him- or herself by working
  • Whether the recipient has enough property to meet his or her own reasonable needs
  • Relative needs of the parties
  • Homemaker contributions during marriage
  • Relative assets and debts
  • Educational levels and how long it would take for the recipient to get enough training to find appropriate work
  • Marital standard of living
  • Contribution of one party to the other during marriage of career enrichment
  • Relative earnings and earning capacities
  • Ages and medical and emotional condition of parties
  • Marital misconduct and abuse
  • And more

That marital misconduct is a required factor is of note because some states expressly prohibit considering this.

What can impact an alimony order?

The court can modify or stop an alimony order if a party shows that circumstances have changed in a “substantial and continuing” way. An award terminates if the recipient remarries.

State statute also provides that alimony stops if the recipient dies. When the payor dies, the alimony obligation stops unless a court order or agreement of the parties provides otherwise. For example, there may be a provision for alimony to continue from the deceased payor’s estate or from a trust.

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