Spousal Support

The principal goal of spousal support is to ensure that both spouses have access to adequate financial resources throughout the separation and divorce process so that each spouse can maintain comparable housing, healthcare coverage, transportation, basic necessities, and legal representation. Equality between the spouses is vital during the divorce process because an economically independent spouse could wield significant leverage over the economically dependent spouse if the dependent spouse, for example, cannot afford housing and basic necessities. As a result, spousal support is typically available upon separation and until the conclusion of the divorce.

There are two types of support available during the divorce process: spousal support and alimony pendente lite. There are some differences between the two types of support. For example, spousal support is entitlement based. In other words, if a spouse commits abuse or engages in infidelity which leads to the separation of the parties, then he or she may not be entitled to spousal support. In contrast, alimony pendente lite would still be available under those circumstances, assuming that a divorce action has been filed. Because both benefits are calculated the same way, the two forms of support are normally interchangeable and at least one form of support is typically available to the economically dependent spouse.

The starting point for the calculation of a spousal support obligation is a determination of each party's ability to pay support. In making this determination, courts are required to consider all financial resources and forms of income. It is important to note that the law defines income as broadly as possible. This means that the court will consider forms of income even if it is illegal or not reported for income tax purposes. Examples of other forms of income include lottery or gambling winnings, personal injury or workers' compensation awards, tips, and monies earned "under the table."

In determining a party's income for spousal support purposes, the court may also consider whether the available income is artificially low. The courts have explained that a person's earning capacity is "the amount that a person realistically could earn under the circumstances, considering his age, health, mental and physical condition, training, and earnings history." See Woskob v. Woskob, 843 A.2d 1247, 1255 (Pa.Super. 2004). If a court determines that if a party's actual income is significantly lower than his or her earning capacity, then the court will assign that party an inflated income for the purposes of calculating spousal support. This legal construct is intended to prevent one spouse from manipulating his or her income to avoid paying a proper amount of support.

Once the court has determined both parties' incomes, it will perform the spousal support calculation. This calculation is rather straightforward. If there are children involved, then child support is first calculated and then the parties' incomes for the purposes of spousal support are adjusted. Under these circumstances, the economically independent spouse will then owe 30% of the difference between spouses' net incomes. If there are no children involved, however, then the economically independent spouse will owe 40% of the difference between the spouses' net incomes.

Adjustments may be made to the support calculation based on other factors, like contributions to healthcare premiums and mortgage payments on the marital residence. Likewise, the court may award a downward deviation decreasing the spousal support award if the guideline amount of spousal support will cause the obligor spouse's net income to fall below the poverty level as determined by the Commonwealth. Special consideration will normally not be given, however, for basic expenses such as rent, cell phones, or credit card payments.
In certain circumstance, the economically dependent spouse may be entitled to an award of attorneys' fees, costs of litigation, court costs, and, upon the conclusion of the divorce, alimony.

Given the complexity of determining a potential award of spousal support, people facing potential spousal support litigation are wise to secure legal counsel. The Pennsylvania spousal support lawyers at Wolf, Baldwin and Associates, P.C. understand the importance to both spouses of securing an accurate award of spousal support. In support matters, we work hard to compassionately comprehend your unique circumstances and needs. We will take the time to thoroughly review with you the process, the interplay between the guidelines and the facts of your case, and to help you prepare your spousal support hearing. Contact our spousal support and alimony lawyers today.