For married couples seeking to end their marital unions in Pennsylvania, the law makes provisions for spousal support, commonly known as alimony. Custodial parents frequently receive child support along with alimony; however, child support is technically awarded to the child, not the parent. Alimony support laws in Pennsylvania are designed to allow a spouse who will be financially disadvantaged by the split to re-establish financial stability.
Alimony is a monetary payment made to a financially disadvantaged spouse by the spouse deemed by the court to have disproportionately more assets. In past decades, women received the lion's share of alimony support awards in Pennsylvania and nationwide. This is because women traditionally did not work outside the home after marriage; therefore, they faced a potentially significant loss of income when their marriages ended. However, laws dictating the gender of the spouse receiving alimony support have been struck down as being unconstitutional. In the 21st century, alimony support orders are made regardless of gender.
Determination of Alimony
Pennsylvania uses several criteria to determine whether either spouse should receive alimony, how much alimony should be awarded, as well as the duration of the alimony award. Among the criteria the courts use to determine alimony awards are the comparative incomes of the spouses, how long the marriage has lasted, the standard of living enjoyed by the married couple, the relative needs of each spouse, marital misconduct by either spouse and the potential income earning ability of the partner seeking support. Alimony support orders may be modified or terminated if either spouse has a significant change in financial circumstances.
Equitable Distribution of Property
Pennsylvania divorce courts utilize a principle known as equitable distribution to determine how to divide marital assets between the spouses, and in determining alimony support orders. Separate property includes assets owned by each spouse before the marriage, as well as gifts such as an inheritance obtained during the marriage. Marital property includes assets obtained jointly during the marriage, as well as the increased value of any separate property that occurred during the marriage. Under this principle, each spouse retains any separate property obtained before or during the marriage; however, the courts may consider the value of any separate property in making property distribution decisions, including alimony support payments.
Divorced spouses who receive alimony payments must record those payments as income on their federal income tax returns. Divorced spouses who make alimony payments may deduct those payments on their federal income tax returns. However, some support payments do not count as alimony -- child support is an important exception. Property settlements in any form other than cash also do not count as alimony. The Internal Revenue Service also does not count payments made to maintain marital property, such as the family home, as alimony.