When a couple begins the divorce process, one key element of the settlement is known simply as support; this can be broken down further into child support and spousal support. Child and spousal support is generally defined as the financial support for children, as well as the parent with primary physical custody of the children. Family support payments are generally paid on a weekly/monthly basis and continue on until the youngest child reaches age 18 (in Pennsylvania) or age 19 in New Jersey.
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What is Spousal Support?
Spousal support in Pennsylvania means that by law, one spouse must pay the other spouse a set amount of money on a regular basis during or after their divorce. When establishing a divorce agreement, spouses may agree to the terms of the support. If the parties cannot agree on their own terms, the court may order a certain arrangement.
Spousal support, also known as alimony, can also be used to pay back a debt. For example, if a wife worked to put her husband through college, the husband may be ordered to pay tuition reimbursement to the wife as an act of spousal support. This type of spousal support can prevent one party from feeling like the other party has taken financial advantage of their situation while married.
When is a Spouse Entitled to Support in Pennsylvania?
Not every spouse receives support after a divorce. Because spousal support aims to help one spouse remain financially stable after divorce, the court will look at many factors decide who is eligible and who should pay, including:
- Both spouses’ earnings and earning capacity
- Their ages and health
- Their sources of income such as inheritances, retirement, and insurance
- The duration of the marriage and the standard of living the spouses had established
- Each spouse’s education and whether one spouse contributed to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other
- How one spouse might be financially affected by having custody of the children
- The spouses’ property, assets, needs, and liabilities
- Any instances of abuse and other forms of bad behavior
- Tax ramifications of the alimony
- Whether one spouse cannot support himself or herself alone
Examining these factors help determine whether alimony is necessary, and if so, for how much and how long.
Types of Spousal Support in Pennsylvania
Spousal support in Pennsylvania may come in one of three forms:
- Spousal support: One spouse makes support payments after the parties separate but before they finalize the divorce. The court may order spousal support before the couple even files the initial divorce petition.
- Alimony pendente lite: The court makes a temporary support order after one spouse files for divorce but before the divorce is final.
- Alimony: The court makes a support order during or after entering the official divorce decree.
If spousal support is necessary, the court will decide which form is best depending on your individual situation.
Common Questions About Spousal Support
Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey use statewide uniform guidelines to determine the appropriate levels of support. If you would like help determining an estimate of the appropriate level of support, please contact our office for a list of accurate figures based on state guidelines.
Another option that is often used during divorce is that of a temporary alimony agreement, also know as alimony pendente lite, to establish maintenance of lifestyle, protection of assets, obligations of the parties. This agreement is nullified when divorce decree or final judgment of divorce is reached.
The court system determines spousal support amounts with an eye on the factors provided by the Legislature, including length of marriage, prior living standard, presence of young children, employment opportunities available to the spouse requesting support, and the extent to which the supported spouse has contributed to the attainment of education or a professional license by the other spouse.
Spousal support comes with an income tax advantage. The Internal Revenue Code defines all spousal support payments as tax deductible by the paying spouse and “ordinary income” for the recipient spouse. For this reason, negotiated settlements can include a high spousal support number resulting in tax breaks for the paying spouse.
Temporary spousal support, also known as alimony pendente lite, is sometimes available and can be awarded when one spouse is unemployed or earning significantly less than the other spouse. If child support is also being paid, the amount of spousal support is determined after the guideline level of child support is calculated. Temporary spousal support is used to preserve the status quo and provide the spouse with sufficient income for basic needs in maintaining the parties’ lifestyle.
Sometimes, a divorcing couple will agree to a spousal support plan that includes higher payments for the first few years. This type of spousal support gives the receiving party the flexibility to go back to school and complete a degree program. After graduation and entrance into the work force, the monthly payments are reduced to a lower level.
The divorce process is fraught with complexities that can be overwhelming. Petrelli Previtera, LLC can provide you with the guidance necessary if you need to create a temporary or long-term spousal support agreement. Contact our lawyers today for help getting started.
Contact Our Lawyers for Assistance
If you need help creating a fair and livable temporary or long-term support agreement, our lawyers are highly-qualified to provide you with guidance. Petrelli Previtera, LLC is committed to ensuring families reach a fair and efficient resolution. Contact our firm to schedule a consultation.
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