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How many years one may have been married does play a role in determining – especially in Court in a contested divorce – whether or not alimony is in play; however, it is only one of seventeen factors in Pennsylvania law the would be considered. Let’s review them and we will discuss the length of the marriage factor first.

While it certainly is not in our law, either by statute or by case law, one may hear that one year of alimony lies for every three years of marriage. While there is no guarantee of that formula being applied by the Court – sixteen other factors come into play, after all – it may not be a bad point at which to begin negotiations. And, as you will soon see, longer marriages can necessarily affect the application of the other factors. Accordingly, it is folly to rely on nothing more than the length of a marriage to calculate alimony.

Next (and actually first on the list with the duration of the marriage being second), the relative earnings of the parties is considered. If one party makes a six-figure income and the other only in the low five-figures, it is easy to see which way the alimony will flow. (Through all of this, bear in mind that Pennsylvania has an Equal Rights Amendment to its state constitution, so alimony is blind as to the sex of the parties.) One can also see how the length of the marriage could tie in with a significant difference in spousal income if, for example, the party earning six figures and the party earning low four figures have been so earning a long time with little change expected moving forward. The lower earner could be expected to need alimony all the longer. Also possibly considered here in a relatively brief marriage is what the respective spouses were earning at the beginning of a short marriage. In other words, is either party better or worse off than they were? Was it agreed that a spouse would stop working?

Next considered are the parties’ respective ages and physical, mental, and emotional states. One can imagine that allegations as to a party’s states may require proof, including expert testimony if any of those states are put forth as a reason to need alimony (or not to pay it). May-December marriages, especially ones with major age differences, would be presenting arguments using this factor.

In marriages of moderate or long duration, next to be considered would be the standard of living established and shared during the marriage. The high earner cannot reasonably expect the ex to accept moving into a studio apartment and using public transportation if, during the marriage, both parties had the use of personal vehicles and lived for most of the marriage in a five thousand square feet, four-bedroom, three and a half bath private residence. On the other hand, the party seeking alimony, in this case, cannot reasonably expect to be maintained at that high standard for the next thirty-five years. After all, an important reason for an alimony law is to help the low-earning spouse get back up on his/her feet, keep off of welfare, and eventually survive on his/her own.

Next, to be considered is the relative education (and/or professional training and qualifications) of the parties. Is one a practicing surgeon while the other has only a twenty-five-year-old liberal arts degree with little gainful employment during the marriage? Also considered here would be the duration and expense of the alimony-seeking spouse’s future education and/or training necessary to find employment.

The relative assets and liabilities of each spouse would also be examined. What if the low-earner has just come into a substantial inheritance? Or if the high-earner is a new dentist who needs to invest a six-figure sum in setting up a dental office and waiting for the patient list to begin to grow? Sometimes the Court will award the low earner a much larger share of the marital assets, some of which – perhaps one of two homes, for example – could be sold or rented to increase that spouse’s assets. That could decrease the need for or amount of alimony.

The next factor usually comes into play in marriages of less than truly a long duration, and that is the property (realty, personal property, or money) which each spouse brought into the marriage. If a party brought into the marriage a house that was paid off or nearly so and made it the marital residence or if the other spouse brought into the marriage a substantial inheritance, what consideration would those be given in determining alimony? They would definitely be a factor.

Many marriages have a spouse who is the wage earner while the other was the homemaker. Any adult knows that homemaking, done properly, is not an easy job and the Court will consider the contributions as a homemaker.

Even the relative needs of the spouses come under consideration by the Court. Pay attention, now…the needs, not the desires. this could be the subject of proof by much testimony and not just the testimony of the spouses may be used to bolster one’s position in this regard.

Even though Pennsylvania has had no-fault divorce on the books since 1980, a party guilty of truly egregious marital misconduct might find him or herself less deserving of alimony or being required to pay more than what might otherwise have been determined. Abusive behavior and even adulterous conduct, if proven and significant, frequently play roles in alimony contests. Be guided accordingly.

The tax consequences of alimony could also be a consideration; however, alimony has ceased to be an event in income taxation since early in 2018 in Pennsylvania. But bear in mind that income tax could be only one aspect of overall tax liabilities.

If going forward, the Court determines that one spouse has insufficient property or assets to provide for his/her reasonable needs, alimony could be in order.

Finally, the Court could determine that one spouse simply is incapable of supporting him or herself after the marriage. This lack of capability need be the fault of neither spouse, but it must be determined to be real, not imagined.

If you have been able to soldier through all of these requirements, you can now see that how long you were married is indeed a small piece of the alimony determination puzzle. If you are contemplating ending your marriage and doing so sensibly, without anger or malice and, hopefully, inexpensively, reading through the Pennsylvania alimony factors should be of considerable assistance in determining whether or not alimony should be part of your divorce and how much and for how long. A truly major factor in settling everything in a divorce, alimony included, is when one party wants the divorce much more badly than the other. If one really wants to be divorced much more than the other party, the desire puts one at a distinct disadvantage. Like anything else in life, whenever one wants something, one typically must give up something to get it.

In my practice of low-cost, simple, uncontested, no-fault divorce, alimony, which must be by agreement, is very rare and when it does play a part, it is because the high earner really wants out and is willing to pay the piper to make that happen. If you are to receive alimony as one of my clients, you absolutely must have it put in a legally-binding agreement and made it a part of your final decree. I provide that service, of course. Without that, you would be trusting your then ex-spouse to make the alimony payments out of the goodness of his/her heart because, if the payments would stop, you could do nothing through the Court to compel them to be resumed. Clients have frequently told me that they get along well with their soon-to-be exes and trust them to pay. I tell them that back in law school, we were given a 2000 page textbook in fine print with no pictures, and on every page, we learned of something gone wrong. Few people seem to consider what could happen to legally unenforceable alimony payments should the ex take up with a significant other who will make the ex’s life a living hell should those payments continue. Between you and that new significant other, who is likely to come second best?