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What is the Difference Between Alimony and Spousal Support?

The terms spousal support and alimony often come up in divorce proceedings. Depending on the jurisdiction and the context, these two designations for financial support can mean different things, or the two terms can be used interchangeably. This article will explain the differences between alimony, alimony pendente lite, and spousal support in Pennsylvania and how the Court determines alimony vs spousal support payments.

Spousal Maintenance and Spousal Support in Pennsylvania

Are alimony and spousal support the same?

Often, Pennsylvania family law attorneys will use the terms “alimony” and “spousal support” to mean the same thing – that is, to describe court-ordered or agreed-upon financial assistance provided to the dependent spouse in divorce cases. 


However, under Pennsylvania law, alimony and spousal support are different entities. Under 23 Pa. C.S. § 4321, married people are “liable for the support of each other according to their respective abilities to provide support as provided by law.” In other words, the obligation for spouses to financially support one another according to their available income and earning capacity persists while the parties are married. 


Therefore, spousal support refers to a type of financial assistance provided to the supported spouse during the parties’ separation. In other words, before a complaint for divorce is filed, one spouse can petition the Court for spousal support or spousal maintenance to cover expenses. 


The formula for calculating spousal support is governed by 231 Pa. Code § 1910.16-4. If you and the opposing party do not have children, spousal maintenance is calculated by taking 33% of the obligor’s net income subtracting 40% of the supported spouse’s net income. The resulting figure yields a monthly spousal support obligation. 


If you and your spouse do have children, spousal support will be calculated by taking 25% of the obligor’s net and subtracting 30% of the obligee’s (or supported spouse’s) net income. The spousal support formula is different when the parties have children because it is assumed that the paying spouse will also have a child support obligation.

These calculations may be adjusted if one spouse is paying the other’s health insurance premiums or if there is a mortgage being paid on the marital residence. These adjustments for additional expenses are governed by 231 Pa. Code §1910.16-6.

Unlike spousal support, alimony pendente lite is a financial obligation that may arise after a divorce complaint has been filed but before a divorce is finalized. It is a kind of pre-divorce form of financial support. 


Under statute – specifically 23 Pa. C.S. §3702 – the supported party can petition the Court for payment for one spouse during the pendency of a divorce action. The law not only allows for reasonable alimony pendente lite or financial assistance during the divorce but also permits one spouse to petition the Court for payment of “reasonable counsel fees and expenses”. This means that the supported spouse may be entitled to have the opposing party contribute towards the attorney’s fees incurred during the divorce litigation.


In addition, the statute gives the Court authority to direct the obligor-spouse to maintain health insurance coverage for the supported spouse while the divorce progresses.


Like spousal support, alimony pendente lite or “APL” is calculated according to a specific formula. It is the same formula outlined above and is set forth in full in 231 Pa. Code § 1910.16-4

Alimony Pendente Lite in Pennsylvania

is there a difference between alimony and spousal support?

Alimony in Pennsylvania

What is the difference between spousal support and alimony

The last form of financial assistance in a Pennsylvania divorce case is alimony. Alimony refers to financial support paid after the divorce is finalized. 


Under Pennsylvania divorce law, alimony is not automatically awarded. Rather, the Court must find that an alimony award is “necessary,” considering the factors enumerated in the Pennsylvania alimony statute, 23 Pa. C.S. §3701


These factors include: 

  1. The relative earnings and earning capacities of the parties.

  2. The ages and the physical, mental and emotional conditions of the parties.

  3. The sources of income of both parties, including, but not limited to, medical, retirement, insurance or other benefits.

  4. The expectancies and inheritances of the parties.

  5. The duration of the marriage.

  6. The contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party.

  7. The extent to which the earning power, expenses or financial obligations of a party will be affected by reason of serving as the custodian of a minor child.

  8. The standard of living of the parties established during the marriage.

  9. The relative education of the parties and the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking alimony to find appropriate employment.

  10. The relative assets and liabilities of the parties.

  11. The property brought to the marriage by either party.

  12. The contribution of a spouse as homemaker.

  13. The relative needs of the parties.

  14. The marital misconduct of either of the parties during the marriage. Notably, except in cases of abuse (as defined under §6102), the Court will not consider marital misconduct that occurred since the date of separation.

  15. The Federal, State and local tax ramifications of the alimony award. Also of note, under current federal IRS regulations, alimony is not tax-deductible to the payor spouse and non-taxable to the payee spouse if awarded after January 1, 2019. 

  16. Whether the party seeking alimony lacks sufficient property, including, but not limited to, property distributed under Pennsylvania’s equitable distribution statute, to provide for the party's reasonable needs.

  17. Whether the party seeking alimony is incapable of self-support through appropriate employment.


In other words, whether one spouse pays alimony and the amount of alimony paid depends on numerous considerations. These generally include the length of the marriage; each spouse’s financial situation; and each spouse’s need for financial support and ability to support themselves. 


Unlike with APL and spousal support, alimony in Pennsylvania is not calculated according to a specific formula. Rather, the Pennsylvania family court will weigh the above statutory factors and determine whether and how much alimony should be awarded.


As you navigate the process of alimony and spousal support in your divorce, it can be essential to have a skilled litigator by your side. The types of alimony and the nature of financial support in divorce can be complicated; a Philadelphia family law attorney can help guide you and determine a litigation strategy to best protect your rights and interests. 

Contact Ormond Law today to schedule a free consultation and get important guidance on your Philadelphia divorce. 

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