Home » Blog » How is Alimony Calculated in Pennsylvania?
If you are going through a divorce, one of the things you are probably most concerned about is how Alimony is calculated in Pennsylvania. In this week’s Divorce Academy video, Kevin explains the basics of how spousal support, alimony pendente lite (APL) and alimony are calculated in Pennsylvania as of January 1st, 2019.
Hey everyone, welcome to Divorce Academy. I’m Kevin Handy and I’m one of the attorney mediators here at SnapDivorce. In today’s video, we are going to be going over how alimony is calculated in Pennsylvania. This Video has been updated for the changes in the laws in 2019. Effective 2019 the federal government changed the alimony laws to eliminate the deductibility of alimony and that led Pennsylvania to change the laws on how alimony is calculated. This video is going to explain how its calculated post-January 1st, 2019.
The first thing you need to know about how alimony is calculated in Pennsylvania is that there’s really three types of alimony in Pennsylvania, and they are all kind of the same thing. There’s spousal support, alimony pendente lite, and alimony, and like I said they are all kind of the same thing and it really has mostly to do with when you’re paying or when you’re receiving the alimony. Spousal support is alimony that’s paid pre-divorce. Maybe you and your spouse separated, maybe you have moved into different homes, but nobody has filed for divorce yet but one of you is seeking spousal support. That’s what it’s going to be called during that time period, spousal support. During the pendency of divorce, once someone’s filed a divorce complaint then it’s called alimony pendente lite and those two (spousal support and alimony pendente lite or APL) are calculated exactly same and it’s pursuant to a mathematical formula. Alimony, that’s going to be support paid to a spouse or ex-spouse post-divorce, and that’s calculated a little bit differently. That’s calculated pursuant to a list of factors, and I’ll get to them later.
The second thing that you need to know about how alimony is calculated in Pennsylvania is that the alimony is always paid by the higher-earning spouse, so it doesn’t matter if it’s the husband or the wife, whoever earns more money is going to be the one who pays the alimony.
Third, and this is new for 2019 and beyond. Alimony is going to be calculated before child support. In the past, if you had minor children that were going to be subject to a child support order that was calculated first, and then alimony. That is now flipped as of 2019. Whether or not you have children you are going to calculate alimony first, and then if you have children then you will go on to calculate the child support. The way spousal support and APL are calculated in Pennsylvania is pursuant to a mathematical formula. It has to do with the percentage of each parties’ net monthly income, and by net monthly income, I mean how much money do you have after you’ve paid taxes that month. Maybe you earn $7,000 gross a month, you pay your taxes, and then you end up with a net income of $5,000. The calculation is going to be based on your net income and your spouse’s net income.
The second part of the formula is that you have to know if you’re going to have a child support order or not because the percentages of each of your net incomes that’s used in the calculation are going to be different. Without children, you take 33% of the obligor’s net income and 40% of the obligee’s net income, and then the difference is going to be alimony. With children, you’re going to take 25% percent of the obligor’s net income and 30% of the obligee’s net income, and then again, the difference is going to be how much is payable in spousal support or alimony pendente lite.
Just to be clear, the obligor is the person with the higher income and the obligee is the person with the lower income. The obligor pays the alimony and the obligee gets the alimony. This will be a little clear in one second. I’m going to go over a sample calculation with you. I came up with a sample calculation where the obligor’s net monthly income was $5,000 a month and the obligee’s net monthly income was $3,000 a month.
We will start with a calculation without children, so there will be no child support order. Either there are no children of the marriage or they are over eighteen and graduated from high school so there is not going to be a child support order. I just wanted to throw this in, and this may be obvious but, all these spousal support, alimony pendente lite, and alimony they are only payable, or it is only going to be an obligation if the two of you were married. If there was no marriage there’s not going to be any of these. It comes up from time to time, someone’s lived together for twenty years, one of them comes in wondering if they are going to get alimony and the answer is no unless you’ve been married.
Back to the sample, without children, the obligor is making $5,000 net a month. You take 33% of that and that’s $1,650. The obligee’s monthly net income is $3,000 net a month, you take 40% of that and that’s $1,200. Then you take the difference between the $1,650 and the $1,200 and the difference is $450. In this example, that’s the amount of spousal support or alimony pendente lite that will be payable.
Now if the couple has children that are minors that are going to be subject to a child support order, the calculation is slightly different.
You take 25% of the obligors monthly net income and that equals $1,250, and you take 30% of the obligee’s monthly net income and that equals $900 and the difference between $1,250 and $900 is $350. In this example, with minor children subject to a child support order, the spousal support or APL is going to be $350. The reason that’s less than the example without children is that this couple is going to go on to also have a child support calculation done as well, so there’s going to be additional support paid by one of the parties to the other, whoever has primary custody of the children.
Again, that formula is going to apply no matter what the net incomes are for spousal support and alimony pendente lite. Like I said earlier alimony is calculated a little bit differently in Pennsylvania, it’s actually calculated pursuant to a list of factors, at least allegedly. Some courts will still use the formula. I listed the most important factors, there’s a list of a whole list of factors, but I listed the most important factors here. The earnings of the parties: how much do the parties make, and the difference between their earnings. The ages and health of the parties. Are they close in age? Is there a big difference? Is one of them close to retirement? The sources of income. Expectancies, is one party expected to receive a big inheritance? The length of the marriage, how long have you guys been married? The education of the parties. The assets of the parties, do the parties have relatively equal assets? or does one of the parties have a large estate that was inherited? or maybe they had a lot of assets pre-marital, that would come into play in whether they would have to pay, or get alimony. The needs of the parties, and finally marital misconduct. I threw that in here because that’s the factor that most people like to talk about when they are talking about alimony. Most people get the idea, well my spouse did something wrong, or my wife didn’t contribute anything to the marriage, or my husband is lazy, or he had an affair. Everyone likes to bring up these kinds of marital misconducts when they are talking about alimony as an argument on why they should get more alimony or less alimony. The reality is the courts do not really take into consideration marital misconduct. Even though that tends to be what people like to focus on its probably the least important factor, and that’s actually why I put an “X” next to it.
My recommendation is to forget about that and focus on the other factors. A lot of the courts in Pennsylvania like to do what I call a “needs-based analysis,” and they really focus on that needs factor. Needs-based means they are going to look at how much does the lower-earning spouse make? and then what do they need to get by?
As an example, here I had that the lower-earning spouse earned $3,000 net a month. The court might look and say you know what that spouse actually needs $4,500 a month to get by. They will look at what is the spouse’s rent? What is their car payment? What are their food expenses? Utilities? They will add all of that up and say that comes up to about $4,500 and the spouse is only earning $3,000 a month, they are going to award the difference as alimony. It might be $1,500 a month. That’s just an example, they are going to obviously take consideration can the obligor pay that? What’s he or she making? But that’s an analysis that a lot of courts like to do. Some of the other courts will just apply the spousal support or APL formula and that’s what they will award as alimony. In Bucks County Pennsylvania, that’s what they do. They don’t even look at the factors they will just use the formula.
The final question with regard to alimony in Pennsylvania is how long are you going to have to pay it? or how long are you going to be receiving it? That’s a big question that most people want to know. There is no easy answer to that question. It depends really on – I’d say the major factor is how has the marriage been? If it’s a really short marriage you’re not going to get it for very long. If it’s been a really long marriage, if you’ve been married for 30 years, and you’re both in retirement, it may be indefinite. You may have to pay or you may get it for the rest of your life. The tougher questions are those in-between marriages – you know, 10, 15, 20 years.
While there’s no easy answer, a good rule of thumb is 1 year of alimony for every 3 years of marriage. If you’ve been married for 15 years, a good rule of thumb to think is about probably 5 years of alimony. Now that will change depending on different factors- if someone is really close to retirement, and 5 years only gets them to 64, the court might give them a couple of extra years to get them to 67. If in equitable distribution the assets were distributed unevenly, say 60/40, then the court could potentially shorten the length of alimony. But if you’re looking for a quick and dirty answer for how long you have to pay it, think about one year of alimony for every 3 years of marriage.
That’s the way alimony is calculated in Pennsylvania, after January 1st of 2019. I hope this was helpful and we’ll see you next time on Divorce Academy.