Written By: Ali Audi | December 18, 2013 | No Comments

Almost every client that comes into our office needing help with a divorce wants to know what kind of spousal support they are entitled to, or what kind of support they might have to pay. Most have never heard of APL, think that spousal support and alimony are the same thing, and/or think that alimony is a term from the past that is no longer used. It’s no surprise our clients are confused, a quick Google search revealed that there is a lot of conflicting and incorrect information out there. The reality is that spousal support, APL, and alimony are all different and are all still used in Pennsylvania at different times.

When a couple separates and one spouse is more financially secure than the other (based on the net income and earning capacity of each party), that spouse(the payor spouse) may be obligated to pay spousal support to the other (the payee spouse) in order to cover that person’s current day-to-day support needs. Spousal support can be requested before or after either of the parties have filed for divorce. APL stands for alimony pendente lite (or alimony pending litigation) and is largely similar to spousal support, except for two key points. First, APL can only be requested once the divorce proceeding has begun. Second, because APL is supposed to allow the payee spouse to either prosecute or defend the divorce action, APL can include the payee’s additional legal expenses (for example, counsel fees). Therefore, while both spousal support and APL are calculated using the same Pennsylvania Support Guidelines, granting APL could justify an upward modification of the guideline amount because of the payee spouse’s added legal expenses. Otherwise, the payee spouse who is granted APL can bring a separate action for counsel fees and legal expenses.

Spousal support can also be more limited, in that APL is payable regardless of fault, while spousal support can be withheld because of marital fault. Also, cohabitation will not necessarily stop an APL order. Similarly, spousal support may be denied if the parties are still living under the same roof. Because a payee spouse is only entitled to either spousal support or APL, it is important to know the difference between the two and file for the appropriate one depending on the specific facts of each case. If the payee spouse receives APL, they must be careful to not unnecessarily delay the divorce proceeding or they may become ineligible for more payments. A lawyer’s advice can be very helpful in deciding which type of support should be filed for and to help calculate the estimated payment amounts based on the Commonwealth’s Guidelines.

While spousal support and APL are awarded before a divorce is finalized, alimony is used once a final divorce decree has been entered. Alimony is awarded when the payee does not have the means to be completely self-supporting through employment or property ownership. The amount of alimony that will be awarded is much more difficult to predict because it is not calculated using a mathematical formula (as APL and spousal support are). Instead, it is based on many different factors (seventeen, to be exact!), including the payor’s ability to pay, the equitable distribution of the couple’s assets, the reasonable needs of the payee based on the standard of living that was established during the marriage, and the length of the marriage. Estimating the duration of alimony is also quite difficult because it is very fact-specific. Many people think there is a rule, such as half or one-third the length of the marriage; however, although the length of the marriage is a factor, it is only one of several. Alimony can, in fact, be set for an indefinite or a definite period of time. The court could find that the payee spouse can soon become self-supporting and set the alimony for a very brief period of time or could find that the payee spouse will never be able to be self-supporting and could make the alimony permanent. Alimony will generally stop once the payee spouse gets remarried or starts cohabitation with another person, unless the parties agreed to continue alimony in a private contract.

Even if an order has already been entered for spousal support, APL, or alimony, all three can be modified if there has been a change in circumstances. A lawyer can help you determine if this might be appropriate in your specific case.

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