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Spousal Support vs. Alimony Pendente Lite

While many people are familiar with the concept of alimony, which involves financial payments by a higher earning spouse to the lower earning spouse after the divorce is finalized, many people are not as comfortable with the concepts of spousal support or alimony Pendente Lite, which are paid to the lower earning spouse before the divorce is finalized.

According to Pa.C.S.A. 4321, “married persons are liable for the support of each other according to their respective abilities to provide support as provided by law.” Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite are paid during the separation or divorce proceedings but not after the divorce is finalized. These types of support are terminated upon the entry of the Divorce Decree. These support obligations are calculated and awarded though the county Domestic Relations Office.

Spousal Support:

The purpose of Spousal support is to provide for the “care, maintenance, and financial assistance” of the financially dependent spouse. (Pa.C.S.A. 3103) Spousal support is not typically paid while the parties are residing in the same residence. A Divorce Complaint does not need to be filed in order to file for Spousal Support. The basic support obligation is calculated by comparing the incomes of the parties. If there is no child support obligation, then the higher earning spouse will pay the lower earning spouse 40% of the difference in the parties’ net incomes (the income that each party receives after paying taxes and other mandatory deductions). If there is a child support obligation by the higher earning spouse, the child support obligation is deducted from that party’s net income to reduce the overall income. That lower income is compared to the lower earning spouse’s income. The higher earning spouse will then be obligated to pay 30% of the difference in each party’s respective net income.

Adjustments can and will be made to this basic support obligation to account for medical insurance coverage, medical expenses, child care expenses, each parent’s custodial time, length of the marriage, etc. There are protections for parties with low income and alternate calculations for parties with very high incomes.

The spouse who is required to pay spousal support can raise an “entitlement defense” against the obligation to pay spousal support to the lower earning spouse if he or she can successfully prove a fault-based ground for divorce such as indignities, cruel and barbarous treatment, adultery, and abandonment. If successful in proving the fault, there will no obligation to pay spousal support, unless it can be shown that the paying spouse “condoned” or “forgave” the action or activity that gave rise to the fault claim.

Spousal support will continue until the divorce is finalized. Once the divorce is final, the spousal support obligation is terminated.

Alimony Pendente Lite:

Alimony Pendente Lite (APL) is Latin for Alimony “pending the litigation.” Unlike Spousal Support, the purpose of APL is to assist the financially dependent spouse by providing financial support to assist in the legal costs of the divorce proceedings. A Divorce Complaint must be filed in order to receive APL. A spouse cannot simultaneously receive spousal support and APL. Unlike Spousal Support, there are no “entitlement defenses” to APL.

The APL obligation is calculated utilizing the same formula as is used to calculate the spousal support obligation. If one spouse raises an entitlement defense to Spousal Support, the spouse seeking the support may choose to either fight the entitlement defense or simply file for APL, for which there is no defense. One disadvantage of APL, however, is that if the receiving spouse is not working to advance the divorce action forward and therefore not “litigating” the action, the paying spouse can ask the court to terminate the APL award.

This process can be stressful and confusing. The experienced attorneys at Tanner Law Offices, LLC, can help you understand your rights and provide you with the representation that you need whether you are the paying party or the receiving party. Our lawyers represent clients in Harrisburg, Camp Hill and other communities throughout Central Pennsylvania. Call us at 717-836-0471 or contact us online.