Divorces are a messy time of upheaval. Besides the emotional rollercoaster, there are the material implications to deal with.
In Pennsylvania, property division is done within an equitable distribution framework. This means there’s no assumption of a 50/50 split. Rather, courts require a fair distribution of community property according to state-provided guidelines.
Spousal support (alimony)
Divorce often impacts one spouse more severely than the other. Spousal support is intended to ease that pain, to help the payee spouse adjust to a productive single life, and to continue to enjoy the standard of living they had during the marriage.
It’s important to note that there is a limited window for seeking this support. Spousal Support or APL must be filed during the divorce action. Alimony is a secondary remedy after the divorce is entered and is very difficult to obtain if there are sufficient assets to divide. When filing for Alimony the Divorce Code offers the courts guidance on when to award it. It considers:
- The current income and earning potential of each spouse
- The separate property of each spouse; that is, each party’s assets and debts
- The age and physical and mental health of each spouse
- The duration of the marriage
- The standard of living of the couple during the marriage
- Whether or not one spouse went to school for training or for an advanced degree while the other worked
- Whether or not during the marriage one of the spouses was a homemaker
- How child custody is being shared and the children’s ages
- How long it will take the payee spouse to obtain the skills and education needed to carry on successfully on their own (if that’s even possible)
- Whether or not there was fault on the part of either spouse, that of adultery, bigamy, gross mistreatment, or if either spouse was in jail for more than two years
Courts also consider tax repercussions. As of January 1, 2019, the tax burden in Pennsylvania shifted to the payor spouse. Under Pennsylvania tax law, alimony payments can no longer be taken as a tax deduction. On the other hand, the payee spouse does not have to declare the support as taxable income.
This tax code change creates a downward pressure on the alimony system because payor spouses are now more impacted. As such, differently structured financial settlements are incentivized. For instance, a lump sum one-time payment or payment made in installments may be considered.
This is simply one example of how much more fluid alimony is than it used to be. It can take many different forms. That said, it remains a part of the property division process and will be for the foreseeable future.