Support Considerations in Divorce

The marital relationship gives rise to a support obligation between spouses. Similarly, the parent-child relationship gives rise to a support obligation.

Spousal support is the support that one spouse, generally the spouse with the higher income, pays to the other spouse before a divorce action has been filed. After a divorce action has been filed, that support is known as alimony pendente lite (APL). There are certain defenses available to a claim for spousal support that are no longer available once the support becomes APL. Generally, spousal support and APL terminate after a divorce decree is entered and all economic issues have been resolved. Once the divorce decree has been entered and the economic issues are resolved, a spouse may be ordered to pay alimony.

Generally, the non-custodial parent with the higher income will pay child support to the custodial parent with the lower income. Child support usually ends when a child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs last. Pennsylvania no longer obligates separated or divorce parents to contribute to their child’s college education. However, spouses my obligate themselves to do so in a marriage settlement agreement.

Determining support

Pennsylvania has enacted support guidelines for the determination of spousal support, APL, and child support. The guidelines contain formulas and a table that define the support obligation at various income levels. The guidelines also include considerations for the sharing of certain expenses such as health insurance costs, childcare, and mortgage expenses. In the case of child support, the amount of custody each parent has may affect the amount of child support ordered. The court may permit deviations from the guidelines based on appropriate showing. Generally spousal support, APL, and child support are modifiable upon a showing of changed circumstances.

Alimony is support paid by one spouse to the other after a divorce decree has been entered. The court determines the amount and duration of the alimony based on a list of factors found in the divorce code. Alimony is considered a secondary remedy to property distribution and is not awarded in all cases. Generally, alimony awarded by the court is modifiable, but negotiated alimony under a marriage settlement agreement is not modifiable unless the agreement says so.

The starting point for a support analysis is the net income of each party. Sometimes, determining net income is relatively straight forward, such as in the case of a W-2 wage earner. Other times, determining net income is more difficult, such as in the case of a business owner, self-employed individual, or professional. There are many factors to consider in calculating net income, such as the earning capacity of an unemployed or under-employed individual, and whether to characterize payments of money as income or property. Often, a forensic accountant and a vocational expert may assist in determining these considerations.

At Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky, our attorneys have experience in analyzing, negotiating, and litigating all forms of support. To schedule an appointment, contact Reid B Roberts at rroberts@smgglaw.com today and find out how our skilled attorneys can negotiate on your behalf.