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What is alimony?

There are many financial issues confronting spouses during divorce in Pennsylvania such as property division and child support. Spousal support, commonly referred to as alimony, is often misunderstood and has independent requirements.

After the issuance of a divorce or annulment decree, a court may order reasonable alimony payments from one spouse to another. This support has to be necessary and it may be limited to a certain period such as the time that the payee obtains the education or skills for a job.

There are three types of alimony. First, it may be ordered to help assist the former spouse obtain job training or skills. The court may also award lifelong alimony to spouses who cannot support themselves. Finally, the support may be ordered to compensate a previous spouse who paid for their spouse's education, training or ability to earn a living when distribution of martial property is inadequate for this compensation.

Like other family issues, numerous factors guide the court's discretion. These include the parties' income, their age and physical and emotional condition, earnings from benefits such as pensions, any anticipated inheritance, the length of their marriage, and one spouse's payments for the other party's benefit such as their education.

Courts also consider the financial responsibilities of the spouse who is providing child care, the spouses' standard of living when they were married, the need of a party to receive additional education or training, each of the spouses' resources and liabilities, the property brought into their marriage by each party, the tax consequences of this support and whether a party can obtain employment.

Alimony is not imposed as punishment. Once the spouse remarries, this support ends. A spouse receiving alimony cannot live with a significant other. Alimony payments also end with the death of the paying spouse unless there is a court order or agreement that this support continues.

Prompt legal advice concerning alimony, like other support and child custody, issues may be instrumental for spouses during divorce proceedings and settlement negotiations and have tax consequences. Parties may lose important rights without this representation.

Source: Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services, Inc., "Alimony," Accessed July 10, 2016

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