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First, let’s define alimony. Alimony is a post-divorce payment that one divorced spouse makes to the other. It is very common for the spouse who earns less to request alimony as part of the divorce settlement. The intent of these payments is to provide financial assistance to the spouse with the lower earnings to assist them in a smooth transition into life after divorce.
The next question for the lower earning spouse is am I entitled to alimony? There is no guarantee in Pennsylvania for awarding alimony. Instead, it’s purely discretionary and a judge makes the determination based on 17 factors listed in Section 3701 of the PA Divorce Code. A spouse who seeks alimony must specifically ask for it in court or negotiate it with their spouse through the meditation process, which is always recommended first, if possible.
The 17 alimony factors considered in Pennsylvania are listed below.
1. The relative earnings of both spouses.
2. The duration of the marriage.
3. The ages and physical, mental, and emotional states of the two spouses.
4. The sources of income of both spouses. This includes medical, retirement, insurance, or other benefits.
5. The expected future earnings and inheritances of the two spouses.
6. The degree to which one spouse has contributed to the other spouse’s education, training, or increased earning potential.
7. The degree to which a spouse will be financially affected by their position as the custodian of a minor child.
8. The standard of living of the spouses established during the marriage.
9. The relative education of the parties. This also considers the amount of time it would take for the spouse seeking alimony to acquire the education or training necessary to find employment.
10. The relative assets and liabilities of the two spouses.
11. The property each spouse brought to the marriage.
12. The degree a spouse contributed as a homemaker.
13. The relative needs of the two spouses.
14. The marital misconduct of either of the spouses during the marriage. “Abuse” is in this context shall have the meaning given to it under Section 6102.
15. The federal, state, and local tax consequences of the alimony.
16. Whether the spouse seeking alimony lacks sufficient property, including items in Chapter 35 relating to property rights, to provide for their reasonable needs.
17. Whether the spouse seeking alimony is incapable of supporting themselves through appropriate
During divorce mediation, these factors are thoroughly discussed to achieve a fair amount and duration of alimony for the lower earning spouse. While all factors are taken into consideration before a judge or in a mediation, two of the main factors taken into consideration are the length of the marriage and the disparity in income. The greater the difference in income and the longer the marriage, the more likely that the spouse who earns less will be granted alimony.
Once it is determined by a court or agreed to in a mediation, the question then is how long will alimony last? In Pennsylvania, there is no hard and fast answer. In many Pennsylvania county courts, there is a rule of thumb that a recipient should receive one year of alimony for every three years of marriage. This is not law and should not be stated as anything but a rule of thumb.
However, I always remind my clients in our mediation sessions that there is no guarantee for alimony and no mandated time frame for an alimony claim. So, we work with our clients to determine if there is a valid alimony claim based on the 17 factors. We use the one to three-year guideline to start the discussion on the length of alimony. From that point, we discuss the needs of both parties to determine the amount and length of alimony.
If you have any questions or would just like information about how Alpha’s mediation program may work for you, please reach out to us at Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation.