Going through a divorce or separation with a partner is a significant shift in your life. This is especially the case in longstanding relationships and when children are involved. As a trusted Pennsylvania family law practitioner since 1996, the Law Offices of Dawn K. Gull has handled these critical cases with care and respect for all parties involved.
Keeping your family strong through this transition is our highest priority, and we’ll do our part to ensure that matters involving child and spousal support are fairly decided. We believe that both spouses (the higher-earner and the dependent) and their children should be able to maintain their quality of life through and after the divorce proceedings.
Our team is well-versed in Pennsylvania family law and divorce law. As such, we’re uniquely qualified to review the details of your case and keep you informed of all requirements and updates pertaining to support payments.
Because this process can be complex, we’ve laid out a few key points you should be aware of regarding child and spousal support.
What Are the Differences Between Spousal Support and Alimony?
Some states reference spousal support and alimony interchangeably. However, the two concepts have clear and functional differences in Pennsylvania.
Spousal support refers to payments that the dependent spouse receives once the parties have separated and before claims are made under the divorce code. Spouses have the obligation to support one another.
Alimony pendente lite refers to the payments that are made during the court process. These payments are issued to maintain the good faith of the marriage agreement — they ensure that both parties can afford court fees and necessary life expenses throughout litigation.
By contrast, alimony payments are paid by the higher-earning spouse after the divorce. These payments are calculated based on information presented during the case.
Under Pa.C.S.A. 4321, spouses and parents are liable for support of their other spouse and dependent children. Building a life together requires income, in addition to other kinds of care and involvement.
For this reason, a “dependent” spouse is often entitled to financial support from the primary earner or higher-earning spouse. This support can begin at any time during the separation or divorce process.
What Is Alimony Pendente Lite (APL)?
Alimony pendente lite translates to “alimony pending litigation.”
In Pennsylvania, APL can be ordered for the dependent spouse in place of spousal support if a divorce complaint has been filed and claims have been raised under the divorce code.
The difference between spousal support and APL include that APL can only be awarded after a divorce complaint is filed and that spousal support has entitlement defenses, whereas APL does not.
The defenses to spousal support include:
Alimony pendente lite cannot be refused by the court based on fault.
The dependent spouse is expected to use the APL payment, in the same nature as spousal support, to cover court fees and living costs during the divorce proceedings. The payment amount is calculated in the same manner as spousal support. Unlike spousal support, however, it cannot be claimed during a separation and only becomes available once a divorce complaint is filed.
How Child Support, Spousal Support, and Alimony Payments are Calculated
Set formulas are used as baselines for child and spousal support payments to ensure that both parties are fairly represented. That said, each case is unique, and many factors are considered to arrive at an equitable final number.
As experienced Pennsylvania family law attorneys, we can help you incorporate all relevant information into your case to ensure that your support payments reflect the nature of your individual circumstances.
Calculating Child Support Payments
Child support is given to the parent or caregiver who maintains primary custody of the child(ren). In some cases, it may be given to a parent who has equally shared custody of the child(ren) but makes significantly less than the other parent.
The State of Pennsylvania uses a Basic Child Support Schedule as a calculating guideline for child support payments. This chart uses both parents’ combined adjusted net incomes (income after taxes) and the total number of children to calculate a reasonable amount per month that the other parent will need.
The person responsible for making the child support payments (the obligor) will pay their proportionate share of the guideline amount equal to their percentage of the combined net family income. For example, if the custodial parent makes $4,000 per month and the non-custodial parent (obligor) makes $6,000 per month, the obligor will pay 60% of the guideline. This can be increased or decreased due to the payment of health insurance premiums, child care costs, and other factors.
Child support payments are due each month until the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. Payment amounts can be readjusted over time depending on changes in income. Another change occurs when children reach the 18-year age/high school graduation limit, which affects the applicable “number of children” column used to calculate payments.
Calculating Spousal Support Payments
Spousal support and APL payments are determined using a few simple equations:
If there are no dependent children:
(Obligor’s income x 33%) – (obligee’s income x 40%) = spousal support
If there are dependent children:
(Obligor’s income x 25%) – (obligee’s income x 30%) = spousal support
Again, this amount can be adjusted up or down based on factors such as who pays the obligee’s health insurance.
Divorce cases consist of several key elements, including:
With so much to consider, proceedings can reasonably take months to finalize. Spousal support or APL gives the dependent spouse the flexibility to pay for life expenses and legal fees over this period.
Once litigation has concluded, the dependent spouse will no longer be eligible for spousal support or APL. However, they may begin receiving alimony payments at this time, depending on the court’s ruling.
Determining Alimony Payment Amounts and Longevity
Due to the nature of married life, at times, one spouse is more dependent on the other for income. Divorce proceedings are designed to ensure that both parties remain financially stable as they move forward from the divorce.
Alimony payments can help the more dependent spouse maintain the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to (within reason). Alimony may still be issued if both spouses work full-time jobs or generate substantial incomes separately.
To accurately assess alimony obligations, the state of Pennsylvania requires the court to review the following conditions:
Both parties’ earning potential
Current and future living situations
The ages of both spouses
The duration of the marriage
Shared and individual assets and debts
All sources of income, including investments, annuities, benefits, etc.
The mental, emotional, and physical well-being of each spouse
The average standard of living while married
The financial needs of each party
Efforts that supported the other spouse’s career, educational, or financial success
Active or anticipated inheritances
The court will use all of this information to determine whether alimony should be awarded, and if so, come up with a final number for the alimony payment and decide how long the dependent ex-spouse will receive these payments.
Indefinite alimony payments are not common.
By the same token, in some circumstances, alimony payments may stop or diminish if the dependent spouse has a major change in income or remarries.
Dawn K. Gull: Your Wexford, PA, Family Law Attorney
Wexford is our community, and we’re proud to be able to serve our neighbors’ family law needs. Don’t let the overwhelming stress of divorce litigation keep you from getting the assistance you need. Schedule a case evaluation with Ms. Gull today and take the first step toward winning a fair child support or spousal support ruling.
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