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Support for Spouses

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Alimony Pendente Lite

It’s not rare for lawyers to confuse issues with Latin. For our purposes Pendente Lite means “during the litigation”, it is commonly referred to as APL, and/or confused with its very close cousin, Spousal Support (which is discussed later).

A spouse that earns less than the other is entitled to APL once a divorce action is filed, and it is calculated as the difference between the two parties net incomes multiplied by 40% (unless there is a child support obligation).  The right of the dependant/lower wage earning spouse to receive APL is near absolute, and it is awarded regardless of without consideration to bad acts which occurred during the marriage.  The payor spouse pays APL until a Divorce Decree is entered (hence, during the litigation) and its purpose to create an equal playing field for the spouses while their case is in Court.

Spousal Support

The terms Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite are often used interchangeably; however, there are some key differences. First, Spousal Support is awarded to the lower wage earning spouse prior to the filing of a Divorce Complaint.  Second, there are defenses to Spousal Support; including those relative to martial fault grounds, and where the parties are legally separated, but continue to live in the same house, and the payor continues to support the family.

Alimony

Alimony is granted after the completion of the distribution of property phase of your case.  It is not granted to put the parties on an equal playing field like APL, nor is it awarded to keep a party in the “style to which they’ve become accustomed” as is commonly seen on television.  Alimony is a “secondary remedy” awarded to a party that is not fully capable of supporting themselves and in an amount sufficient to meet their “reasonable” needs for a period of time sufficient for that person to become able to fully support themselves.

Alimony, like the equitable distribution of property, is awarded on the basis of the weighing of several factors, and accordingly, it is imperative that you have competent legal advice before entering into any agreement to pay alimony, or if you have a hearing scheduled where alimony is an issue.

Complex and non-complex support conferences and hearings

There are two types of Support Hearings (whether for child support, spousal support, or APL).  A simple, or non-complex case is one where both parties incomes are readily obtainable.  In these types of cases a net disposable income calculation can be performed for both parties and applied to the Pennsylvania Child Support guidelines.  Even cases where the parties earn more than $350,000 per year in combined income can be non-complex provided that the sources of income are clear, and there is no issue as to the earning capacity of either party.  Generally, a case is considered to be “non-complex” if the parties income can be ascertained by the Court in a hearing lasting about 20 minutes.  At a non-complex conference, a Court employee reviews the parties income information and explains to them how the guidelines apply to them.  If the parties are unable to agree on a support amount, the matter proceeds to a hearing which may be the same day (Allegheny County) or at a later date (Butler, Westmoreland & Washington counties). 

A complex case is one where the Court believes that the required time for hearing will exceed 30 minutes.  These cases can last from about two hours to, in rare circumstances, several days and discovery is permitted so that it is possible to get information directly from the opposing party.  Complex cases usually focus of two issues.  The first deals with determining a parties income when they are a private business owner, a 1099 employee (independent  contractor) or when a substantial portion of their income comes from cash (or even illegal) sources.   A second common complex issue is “earning capacity” which arises when person has the capacity to earn an income (in any amount) yet for some reason chooses to earn less.  There can be legitimate reasons for a diminished earning capacity like caring for younger children, attending school, or disability, however, a party is not permitted to work for no reason whatsoever.  If your case deals with a complex issue, it is important that you engage counsel early in the proceedings so that they can be prepared to deal with all of the eventualities that may arise in your case.