While an appeal to a divorce decree must be completed within 30 days, a modification to a divorce agreement can be requested at any time after the divorce. It is not uncommon that, after significant time has passed, circumstances have changed enough to warrant an alteration of the divorce agreement.
Spousal support and alimony are calculated based on a complex combination of factors including income, age, health, length of marriage, and expenses. These calculations vary from state to state, but the assumption is usually that the spouse receiving support from the ex (and statistically, it's usually the wife) does not have another adult partner helping to provide financial support.
Alimony is support paid to an ex-spouse following the divorce decree. The amount of alimony is based on the incomes of the parties but may also be affected by the distribution of other marital assets, if any. The length of alimony is directly attributable to the length of the marriage. For example, a party may expect approximately 1 year of alimony for every 3 years married. For marriages of over 25 years, an indefinite term of alimony may be appropriate. Unless otherwise stated by agreement, alimony may be subsequently modified due the changed circumstances of either party. The changes must be substantial and of a continuing nature. Parties to a private agreement may stipulate that alimony is non-modifiable in amount, duration, or both.
Alimony Pendente Lite, or APL, is spousal support while the divorce is pending. A party may petition for APL at the same time as the divorce complaint or any time thereafter prior to the entry of a final decree. The purpose of APL is to ensure each party has the ability to sustain themselves during the divorce. A party seeking APL should be ready to prove they lack sufficient property to provide for their reasonable means and are financially unable of self-support during the pendency of the divorce litigation. It is the income-dependent spouse who would have the opportunity to receive APL. The court may consider the duration of the marriage in making any award. This is to ensure one party does not benefit from a significant support award in the context of a very short marriage.
Section 4321 of the Domestic Relations laws provides that married persons are liable for the support of each other according to their respective abilities to provide support as provided by law. Similar to child support, spousal support will be calculated based on a statewide guideline. Without children, spousal support is 40% of the difference of the net incomes of the parties. If there is also a child support order, spousal support will only be 30% of the difference of the net incomes. There is a defense to the duty to pay spousal support where the spouse seeking support has engaged in conduct that would constitute grounds for a fault-based divorce. The fault grounds under the Pennsylvania Divorce Code include: (1) willful and malicious desertion without reasonable cause for at least one year; (2) adultery; (3) cruel and barbarous treatment of an injured and innocent spouse; (4) bigamy; (5) imprisonment for at least two years after conviction of a crime; and (6) indignities to the innocent and injured spouse which makes that spouse's condition intolerable and life burdensome.
APL is short for alimony pendente lite which translates to alimony while the divorce is pending. Spousal support can be sought when the parties are separated and potentially before a divorce matter is pending. Often, these two terms for support between spouses are used interchangeably. This is due in large part to the fact that they are calculated the same way. Both forms of support are based on the difference in the spouses' incomes. Pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.16-4, without children, spousal support or APL is 40% of the difference of the net incomes of the parties. If there is also a child support order, spousal support or APL will only be 30% of the difference of the net incomes. Additionally, both forms of support are generally retroactive to the date of filing. However, the underlying purpose of the support award and potential defenses available distinguish APL from spousal support.
Whenever there is a change income, whether it is the party receiving child support or the party paying child support, it is that person's responsibility to file to modify the support order. When someone is suddenly let go from work, even if they qualify for unemployment income, it is often necessary to file to modify support. Even though the wages are attached and the court receives their funds from unemployment, this still does not mean the court is put on notice. You must take initiative and file to modify the order. Even if it is temporary, you should do this in case you are out of work longer than you anticipate. Having to pay a support order based on income you no longer have can be disastrous. In addition, if you have lost health coverage, it is important that you notify the other party as soon as possible. If you are receiving support, likewise, you should file to modify your support order. Support orders are modifiable if either party experiences a change.
If you have a charging support order in PA for either child or spousal support, you likely have to pay the first $ 250 in out of pocket medical expenses each year per person before the remainder are allocated based on a percentage. You need to keep good records in order to receive your remainder share. You should create a list per person of all medical bills per person that are received each month and keep a copy of the bill. You will also need to keep a copy of the check or credit card receipt showing that you paid the copay or bill. Once you have reached $ 250 for the year, you should provide the documentation showing that you reached this limit and then start keeping track of all bills that come in for the rest of the year and request the percentage the other side is responsible to pay. You will likely have to front the money and seek reimbursement. In all cases, if payment is not made by March of the following year, you will need to file contempt with the court in your Domestic Relations office and again provide proof of notice and payment. It pays to be organized and you should make this something you do in January of each year.
Whether you are receiving or support, it's important that if you become disabled, or end up on unemployment, even temporarily, that you file to modify your support. Just because you are out of work, or undergo surgery, does not mean that you can explain it all later to the Court. Nor does it mean that your support will not be due. You need to file to either lower or stop your support if you are paying during the period of time you are disabled or out of work. Otherwise, if you do nothing, the amount you were ordered to pay will continue to charge against you and you could find yourself in contempt if it is not paid. If you are the one receiving support and you become disabled, or suddenly lose your job and are on unemployment, you need to file in order to see if you can get an increase in support temporarily while you are out. If you are unable to file yourself, it may be a good idea to give someone you trust a Power of Attorney to file on your behalf.
Support is modifiable whenever there is a change in circumstances. It does not always have to be due to a disability or unemployment. Whenever there is a change income or any of the factors that play into a support order such as child care expenses, health insurance expenses, etc. you may need to go back to court have your support order recalculated. If you think you may have a change in circumstance that warrants a modification, always consult with an attorney.
A claim for spousal support may be denied where the spouse seeking support has engaged in conduct that would constitute grounds for a fault-based divorce. The fault grounds under the Pennsylvania Divorce Code include: (1) willful and malicious desertion without reasonable cause for at least one year; (2) adultery; (3) cruel and barbarous treatment of an injured and innocent spouse; (4) bigamy; (5) imprisonment for at least two years after conviction of a crime; and (6) indignities to the innocent and injured spouse which makes that spouse's condition intolerable and life burdensome.