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How is Alimony in Pennsylvania Determined?

Alimony in Pennsylvania is but one financial aspect of divorce. There are many which you should have a qualified divorce financial professional review

Alimony is a generic term that actually refers to three types of support payments. They are made by the higher earning spouse to the lesser earning spouse:

  • Spousal Support – Awarded to the lesser earning spouse. This is pre-divorce and before either party files a divorce complaint. Can be awarded even if the parties are living in the same house so long as they are separated, i.e., living separate and apart.
  • Alimony Pendente Lite – Support after the divorce complaint is filed and before the divorce is final.
  • Alimony – Payments made once the divorce is finalized for a set period of time per the divorce settlement.

Spousal support and alimony pendente lite are calculated in the same way. Alimony in Pennsylvania is determined by a number of factors but it is often calculated with the same formula.

Basic Calculations

No Minor Children: Spousal support and alimony pendente lite is calculated before child support. It is based on net income. If there are no children, the amount is the difference between 33% of the obligor’s (higher earning spouse’s) and 40% of the obligee’s (lower earning spouse’s) net income. For example,

Obligor’s Monthly Net Income is $15,000; 33% is $5,000

Obligee’s Monthly Net Income is $10,000; 40% is $4,000

Difference = $1000 = Monthly Support

With Minor Children: The same basic formula but the percentages are changed to 25% and 30%, respectively. To illustrate,

Obligor’s Monthly Net Income is $15,000; 25% is $3,750

Obligee’s Monthly Net Income is $10,000; 30% is $3,000

Difference = $750 = Monthly Support

Additionally, there will be a separate amount calculated for child support that will be added to the monthly alimony.

Post-Divorce Alimony Considerations

Many courts use the formulas above. These amount may be modified based on a number of factors, the most important of which are:

  • Difference between spouses’ earnings
  • Ages and health of the parties
  • Sources of income
  • Expectancies, e.g., inheritances
  • Financial needs of the parties
  • Marital misconduct (rarely considered)

Duration of Post-Divorce Alimony

How long alimony will be paid is a discretionary decision that is based on the factors above. The rule of thumb, though, is 1 year for every 3 years of marriage. So, if a couple has been married for 20 years, the lesser earning spouse would expect to receive alimony for 6 – 7 years. If, however, if the lesser earning spouse is near retirement at the end of that period, the court may extend until he or she is able to collect Social Security and/or access retirement funds.

Alimony Buyouts

The vast majority of men and women view alimony with disdain. Who wants to have to write a check to their ex-spouse month after month? Likewise, does anyone like waiting for and worrying about the monthly check they’re expecting from their ex? What happens if the payor dies, loses their job, or becomes disabled? Is he or she going to be obsessing about whether their ex is cohabitating with a new partner? One alternative is to add an offset to the distribution of the assets equal to the present value of the expected alimony payments. So long as there are sufficient assets to cover the amount, this is a win-win for both parties and eliminates the ongoing angst of monthly payments.

Read more on divorce financial considerations here. Alimony in Pennsylvania It can be a messy affair and a CDFA, like those at TruNorth Divorce Solutions, can help you sort out the details.




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How is Child Support in Pennsylvania Determined?

Child support in Pennsylvania (and 36 other states) is centered on the Income Shares Model, which is based on the concept that children should receive the same proportion of parental income that they would have received if the parents lived together. That amount is found to be related to the level of household income and the number of children for food, housing, transportation, clothing, $250 in annual  medical expenses for each child, and miscellaneous items that are needed and provided for by their parents. This amount is expressed by the child support guidelines.

These guidelines may be adjusted by the court based on additional information regarding special needs and obligations, e.g., private schooling or extraordinary medical expenses. The current schedule for monthly child support up to $30,000 combined monthly net income can be found here.

If monthly combined net income is above $30,000 the amount may be increased based on how much it costs to maintain whatever lifestyle the child has become accustomed to without burdening the custodial parent. Generally, when combined monthly parental income exceeds $30,000 (after deductions), the court orders parents to pay the highest basic support obligation for their number of children, plus a percentage of the amount over $30,000.

  • One child: $2,839 plus 8.6 percent of the combined monthly parental income over $30,000
  • Two children: $3,902 plus 11.8 percent
  • Three children: $4,365 plus 12.9 percent
  • Four children: $4,824 plus 14.6 percent
  • Five children: $5,306 plus 16.1 percent
  • Six children: $5,768 plus 17.5 percent

Parents’ Individual Payments. Child support in Pennsylvania is paid to the custodial parent. If shared custody, support is paid by the parent with the higher net income. When the parents share custody such that the support-paying parent has more than 30% of overnights with the children, a reduction is made accordingly.

Earning capacity may be considered if higher than actual income. Each parent’s contribution takes into account a “self-support reserve” that represents the poverty level of one person as well as an assumption that the children will spend up to 30% of their time with the support-paying (aka “obligor”) parent.

Net Income. Net income is based on a six month average of a party’s income and includes income from any source, including employee wages, businesses owned, pensions and other retirement, estates and trust, social security, tax refunds, awards and verdicts, and alimony that is intended to finance the support-receiving parent (aka “obligee”). Gross income is reduced by mandatory payments, e.g., taxes, FICA, and union dues but not discretionary deductions, e.g., retirement contributions. It may be further lessened by alimony paid to a former spouse or child support for other children of the obligor parent.

Basic Child Support Calculation

The basic child support calculation is determined by

  1. The child support guidelines that take into account the parents’ combined net income and the number of children (see the PA Child Support Guidelines)
  2. The parents’ respective percentages of net income
  3. Adjustments for shared custody
  4. Additional expenses, e.g., child care, health insurance, medical over $250 per child
  5. Other adjustments, e.g., alimony, other children, extraordinary medical expenses, a new spouse’s income. A basic calculator can be found here.

Example Calculations

Example 1: Basic Calculation. Consider the hypothetical case of Keith and Audrey. Keith is the primary physical custodian of their child and has a monthly income of $2,500 after deductions. Audrey has a monthly income of $3,500 after deductions.

Keith and Audrey add their monthly net incomes together to get $6,000.

Keith divides his monthly earnings of $2,500 by $6,000 to get 0.4167, meaning he earns 41.67 percent of the combined income. Audrey divides her earnings of $3,500 by $6,000 to get 0.5833, or 58.33 percent.

Keith divides his monthly earnings of $2,500 by $6,000 to get 0.4167, meaning he earns 41.67 percent of the combined income. Audrey divides her earnings of $3,500 by $6,000 to get 0.5833, or 58.33 percent.

Audrey, the parent with partial physical custody, multiplies $1,761 by 0.5833 to find she must pay Keith $1,027 a month.

Example 2: Shared Custody. Audrey spends three days a week with the kids (40 percent of parenting time), so she qualifies for a 10 percent reduction. She takes her portion of the combined monthly income, 58.33 percent (from Step 3) and decreases it by 10 percent to get 48.33 percent. She multiplies the new percentage by the combined basic support obligation from Step 4 to get her reduced amount: $851 (.4833 X $1,761).

Example 3: Low Income. Consider Paul, who has a monthly net income of $1,150 and must pay support for two children. The support schedule shows the obligation based on his income and number of children is $154 due to his low income status.

The other parent has a monthly net income of $1,000, making their combined monthly parental income $2,150. According to the chart, their combined obligation is $735. With 53.49 percent of the income (see Step 2 for calculation instruction), Paul’s individual obligation would be $393.15, per the guideline formula.

Paul will pay $154 per month in support, the lesser of the two results.

Example 4: High Income. Fern and Roger have two children and a combined monthly income of $35,000. They find the highest support obligation on the schedule for their number of children is $3,902.

Next, they multiply $5,000, the amount over $30,000, by 11.8 to get $59,000, then divide by 100 to determine they must add $590 to the amount from the schedule.

They add $590 to $3,902 to determine their adjusted combined support obligation is $4,492.

To calculate the amount he must pay as the partial parent, Roger multiplies $4,492 by his percentage of the monthly income, which is 52 percent (see Step 3). Roger owes Fern $2,336 monthly (4,492 X 0.52) before deviations for shared custody and other expenses.

Read more on divorce financial considerations here.

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How to Get a Divorce in Pennsylvania

Most “How to Get Divorced” articles take a rather narrow view, i.e., the legal process. Obviously, these articles are typically written by lawyers. 😉

How to get divorced can be a multi-faceted, complicated, entangled, frustrating, non-linear, jumble of a messy process. Not surprising, given that there are two spouses, years of history, hot emotions, finances, children, a home, secrets and lies, hidden agendas involved.

Given all this, though, let me try to keep this “how to get divorced in Pennsylvania” piece as simple as possible for this medium. Here are what we consider to be three essential components.

#1: Financially Prepare and Protect Yourself Before You Start the Divorce

  • Open a separate checking and credit card account at a new bank
  • Check your credit report and score and then periodically track
  • Establish private communication, e.g., P.O. box, email account
  • Gather and copy financial and legal documents—tax returns, statements for loans, bank and retirement accounts, investments, wills, trusts, deeds, car registrations, insurance policies—and store them outside of the marital home

 #2: Talk to Professionals

Most think to first call a lawyer after they talk to a few of their friends and family members. Let me suggest otherwise. Friends and Cousin Amy are great for support but they aren’t likely stellar for advice on how to handle one of the most important and costly events of your life. While well-intentioned, their cases and knowledge of others’ situations are different than yours and you will need the advice of a professional for accurate advice.

You’re best first stop is not with a lawyer but with a far more neutral and resourceful individual: a reputable divorce coach. She or he can help you assess your situation and choose the best path forward and how to execute. They can also help you with setting objectives for how you want to handle the divorce on a personal level, i.e., how to be your “best self.” They can help you better work with a lawyer or mediator, saving you money and significant angst. They are more than anything, the quarterback on your divorce team who can help you assemble the right individuals for the jobs you’ll need to get done.

Lawyers, of course, are a critical component for their knowledge of the legal process. They will often unnecessarily steer you, though, to costly litigation, without regard for what will be best for you and your spouse. Many lawyers are now moving into mediation as its become more popular with divorcing couples, but keep in mind that lawyers aren’t necessarily the best choice for mediation. They are also not equipped to handle the emotional, practical, or complex financial issues of divorce, so make sure you talk to more than just a lawyer early on in the divorce process.

Mediators are a good information source as you consider mediation as a divorce process. Other professionals to consider are a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®) to discuss optimal or creative financial settlement options, or a therapist who may be able to provide extended emotional support.

# 3: Familiarize Yourself with PA Divorce Law and County Procedures

a. Legal Separation

In Pennsylvania, there is no legal separation. You are married until you’re divorced. However, you can create a legally binding separation agreement during your period of separation that covers such things as child support, spousal support, joint bills, parenting plan, health insurance, loans and other debts, etc.

b. Residency

One spouse must have been a resident of PA for a minimum of six months to file for divorce in Pennsylvania.

c. Types of Divorce, Waiting Periods, and Filings

You can file a fault-based divorce, which will typically be contested and take years, or a no-fault divorce.

A no-fault divorce can be under mutual consent, wherein you will wait a minimum of 90 days after filing assuming you both sign affidavits of consent. If one of you, though, is not willing to sign, you must then live separate and apart for one year to establish grounds for divorce. Note that you may live in the same home and be considered to have lived separate and apart as long as you are not living as a married couple.

Filing takes place in the county court’s prothonotary’s office. You will then have to serve your spouse the papers and you will have to have an Affidavit of Service as proof your spouse received them. After the required waiting period, you will file final papers, applying for the divorce decree that will state you are officially divorced.

Divorce filings are handled by county court. Filing can take place where either of the spouses resides or where both spouses agree it can be filed. Each county has its own procedures and fees and should be researched prior to filing.

d. Support, Settlement and Custody Agreements

It’s important to note that if you have financial and custody issues to work out before the divorce is finalized you must do so before the waiting period is over or the decisions will be deferred to the court. The court will look to the filing spouse for their preferences.

If you both hire attorneys and litigate in the courts, you will likely spend a minimum of $30,000 – $40,000. Mediation can reduce fees to less than $10,000. Courts will appoint legal representation for those in need or you can negotiate the financial and custody terms yourselves.

So, that, in a nutshell is “How to Get a Divorce in Pennsylvania.” It’s a bit more nuanced than this as, stated earlier, divorce can be a multi-faceted, complicated, entangled, frustrating, non-linear, jumble of a messy process, right?



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