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How Is Alimony Calculated in Pennsylvania Divorce?

Separation and divorce can cause an enormous amount of economic stress, particularly for the spouse who earns less. In many cases, support laws provide for that spouse to receive monetary support from the higher-earning spouse, either temporarily or permanently. These payments are commonly known as alimony or spousal support.

Many states have complicated spousal support and alimony laws, and the facts of any individual case may significantly affect the amount of support due, as well as the length of time that support will be paid. A spouse may also be eligible to obtain heath insurance coverage from the other spouse.

The divorce arbitrators at SnapDivorce are experts in alimony and support law, with decades of experience prosecuting family law matters. By examining the facts of your case, we will determine which party is entitled to receive or be required to pay support, and the amount and duration of such support. We will consider all relevant facts of your case and apply the law scrupulously in rendering a decision – just as would be done in a traditional courtroom.

SnapDivorce facilitates divorces through the mid-Atlantic region, and every state has its own particularities as to how support and alimony is calculated. However, for the sake of an example, we will use Pennsylvania’s support laws to illustrate how such matters are decided.

In Pennsylvania, there are three types of support (not including child support) that a party to a divorce might be required to pay to a spouse: spousal support, alimony pendente lite, and alimony. The difference between them mostly relates to the stage in the divorce process in which the support is paid. Spousal support is monetary support paid to a spouse after separation but before a divorce is filed. Alimony pendente lite is monetary support paid to a spouse after a divorce is filed, but before the divorce is finalized. Alimony is monetary support paid to a spouse after the divorce is finalized.

How is alimony calculated in Pennsylvania? Alimony pendente lite and spousal support, like child support, are calculated in Pennsylvania by a mathematical formula set forth in law. Alimony is technically not set by formula, although the formula is frequently applied in such cases anyway. In general, the amount of alimony pendente lite/spousal support payable from one party to the other depends on two factors: (1) the amount of child support payable, if any, and (2) the monthly after-tax incomes of the parties (net incomes).

If there are no minor children that will be covered by the support order (i.e., no child support is payable), then alimony pendente lite/spousal support is simply calculated by multiplying the difference between the parties’ net incomes by .40 (i.e., 40%). Net income includes income from any source, including wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, interest, rental income, etc. The only items that are deductible from the parties’ monthly gross income to arrive at the parties’ monthly net income are taxes, (federal, state, local, FICA) and union dues. Other common deductions from a party’s income or paycheck, such as 401(k) contributions, are added back in to determine the party’s monthly net income.

The higher earning party is always the person who pays alimony pendente lite/spousal support. For example, if a wife’s monthly after-tax net income is $5,000.00, and her husband’s monthly after-tax net income is $3,000.00, then the wife would owe the husband alimony in the amount of $800.00 per month ($5,000.00 – $3,000.00 = $2,000.00 x .40 = $800.00). This might be complicated by certain other factors, such as a high mortgage payment paid by one of the parties.

If there are children who are covered by a child support order, then in the case where the party with the higher income is also the party responsible for paying child support, the amount of child support payable is first subtracted from the payor’s net income prior to calculate alimony pendente lite/spousal support. The amount of alimony pendente lite/spousal support payable is also only 30% of the difference in net incomes, rather than 40%.

For example, if a husband and wife have two children, and the wife’s monthly after-tax net income is $5,000.00, and her husband’s monthly after-tax net income is $3,000.00, then the amount of child support payable from the wife to the husband (assuming the husband has primary physical custody of the children) would be approximately $1,099.00. Alimony payable from the wife to the husband would then be $270.00 per month ($5,000.00 – $1,099.00 – $3,000.00 = $901.00 x .3 = $270.30). The total support order, therefore, would be $1,369.30, (assuming no complicating factors such as a high mortgage payment).

Believe it or not the formula is even more complicated if the party with the higher income is also the party who is entitled to receive child support (the party with primary physical custody of the children). In that case, alimony pendente lite/spousal support is first calculated using the formula for parties without minor children. Next, the parties’ net incomes are re-computed factoring in the alimony pendente lite/spousal support payments. Then, child support is calculated using the parties’ adjusted net incomes. Finally the net amount of support payable is calculated.

For example, where the parties have two minor children, and the wife’s monthly after-tax net income is $5,000.00, and her husband’s monthly after-tax net income is $3,000.00, the amount of alimony pendente lite/spousal support payable from the wife to the husband would be $800.00 per month ($5,000.00 – $3,000.00 = $2,000.00 x .4 = $800.00). The parties’ net incomes factoring in the alimony pendente lite/spousal support payments would then be re-computed to be $4,200.00 per month and $3,800.00 per month respectively for wife and husband. Using those adjusted numbers, the husband would owe the wife $835.53 per month in child support. After offsetting the husband’s child support obligation with the alimony pendente lite/spousal support that the wife owes the husband, the net amount of child support due from husband to wife would be $35.53 per month ($835.53 – $800.00).

Note that the above child support numbers may vary based on periodic updates to the Pennsylvania child support guidelines and various other complicating factors not discussed here.

Alimony pendente lite/spousal support may be limited in duration. Alimony, which, as noted above, is post-divorce support, is calculated based on a list of factors rather than a strict formula. It is not necessarily payable in every case and, even when it is payable, is usually of a limited duration. That length is based on a variety of factors.

If this looks formidably complex, it is. That is why it is important that a knowledgeable, experienced professional oversee the award of support in your divorce case.

It is also important to note that support is set based on formulas and rules, not by who cheated on whom, who is willing to fight harder and longer, and who has the better attorney. Since that is the case, it is pointless to spend years and thousands of dollars fighting over what will, in the end, be a cold, hard equation applied in your support matter. Let the professionals at SnapDivorce do the very same thing for less money, less time, and less stress.