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The Basics of Alimony

By Michael Hughes, Esquire

Alimony issues can be a sensitive subject between spouses during and after divorce. Normally, spouses have opposite viewpoints – how much should be paid and for how long. The person paying alimony believes that their spouse “does not deserve anything” because they did not contribute as much to the marital estate. The receiving spouse usually believes that they “deserve” alimony because they put off their career and need time to adjust to the new living situation.

Whether or not you feel that your spouse deserves alimony is not a factor when the state determines if there is going to be an alimony award. Pennsylvania law outlines seventeen factors for courts, attorneys, and mediators to use in determining how much and how long alimony should be paid.

The two main factors taken into consideration are the difference in your incomes and the length of your marriage. There is more likely to be an award of alimony if your marriage is longer and you have a large disparity in your incomes. However, there is no guarantee that an award of alimony will be ordered in any case. There are differences in judges and counties when determining the need of alimony. Some judges and courts may decide to eliminate alimony payments for a larger portion of the marital estate based on personal needs.

If you use the mediation process for your divorce, you will have more control over the alimony decisions. In mediation, you and your spouse have more latitude on determining duration, amount and if alimony will be reduced or eliminated in favor of the spouse receiving a larger portion of the marital estate.

Some lawyers feel that the alimony amount should be able to be changed by the two parties, especially if your payments are for a long duration. This gives the person paying alimony and the person receiving alimony protection if either of your incomes drop during the period of alimony obligation. However, other lawyers believe fixed obligations allow for planning for a more stable future.

Finally, you should be aware of two more points in regards to alimony. First, alimony can be a taxable deductible. For this decision, an accountant should be consulted. Second, alimony payments are usually discontinued if the receiver cohabitates or remarries.