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Jun 1, 2021

Alimony in Pennsylvania


Alimony is a post-divorce payment that one spouse makes to the other spouse. It is fairly common in a divorce action for the spouse who earns less to make a claim for alimony. Alimony payments are ordered in cases to smooth the transition for the party who earns less and/or assist in securing their financial future.

The question that any attorney will get from a lower earning spouse is am I entitled to alimony. The simple answer is, no. There is no entitlement to alimony in Pennsylvania. Instead, it’s purely discretionary with the court, and based on 17 factors listed in the Divorce Code. A spouse who seeks alimony must specifically ask for it in their pleadings or negotiate for it through meditation.

Here are the 17 alimony factors considered by the PA courts (from Section 3701 of the PA Divorce Code). During divorce mediation, these are thoroughly discussed to achieve the fairest alimony settlement possible.

  • The relative earnings of both spouses.
  • The duration of the marriage.
  • The ages and physical, mental and emotional states of the two spouses.
  • The sources of income of both spouses. This includes medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits.
  • The expected future earnings and inheritances of the two spouses.
  • The degree to which one spouse has contributed to the other spouse’s education, training or increased earning potential.
  • The degree to which a spouse will be financially affected by their position as the custodian of a minor child.
  • The standard of living of the spouses established during the marriage.
  • 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.
  • The relative assets and liabilities of the two spouses.
  • The property each spouse brought to the marriage.
  • The degree a spouse contributed as a homemaker.
  • The relative needs of the two spouses.
  • 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.
  • The federal, state and local tax consequences of the alimony.
  • Whether the spouse seeking alimony lacks sufficient property, including items in Chapter 35 relating to property rights, to provide for their reasonable needs.
  • Whether the spouse seeking alimony is incapable of supporting themselves through appropriate employment.

Alimony is really based and focused on the financial needs of the parties. While a court or mediator takes into account all of the factors in determining the financial needs of the parties, two of the main components in many of the cases reviewed are the length of the marriage and the disparity in the party’s incomes. The longer the marriage and the greater the disparity in income, the more likely that the lower earning spouse will get be awarded alimony.

There also is the question of how long will one spouse have to pay alimony to the other spouse. In many Pennsylvania county courts, there is an unspoken rule of thumb, that a lower earning spouse should receive one year of alimony for every three years of marriage. This can create some confusion for people as it is not a hard and fast rule or law. Accordingly, while there is no entitlement for alimony in Pennsylvania, the court must determine that alimony is necessary based on the 17 factors and, further determine the duration of alimony which is a purely discretionary decision.

There is then the questions of how much alimony needs to be paid. In mediation, an attorney-mediator can educate both parties on the seventeen factors referenced above regarding alimony, the reasoning and purpose for alimony, and whether or not there is a need for alimony in their case.
Parties are in a better position to look at the facts of their case with a mediator and apply alimony factors to their specific case. The attorney-mediator is present assist during the negotiation process ensure a fair and equitable resolution to the determination of alimony as well as the amount and duration. Both parties walk away with a clear understanding of how they came to the final determination of alimony.

The final point to cover with alimony is the tax treatment. In Pennsylvania, under the previous law, alimony was deductible to the spouse making the payments. For recipients, it was included as taxable income. However, based on a law passed in 2017, alimony payments were no longer be deductible for the payor, nor taxable for the recipient here in Pennsylvania. This meant that divorces and separation agreements signed after December 31, 2018 would be governed under the new law.

If you have any questions or would just like information about how Alpha’s mediation program may work for you, please reach out to use at Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation.
Michael Hughes, Esq. is an attorney-mediator with the Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation. He can be reached at 800-310-9085 at mehughes@alpha-divorce.com.