In most support matters, the income of one spouse/party is greater than the other, which results in the spouse with lesser income relying upon the financial support of the other. A complaint for child support and/or spousal support can be filed without having to file for divorce. A spousal support claim may be challenged by the other spouse if there is proof of fault, such as marital misconduct. Such challenge may, however be overcome by filing of a divorce complaint, that includes an alimony pendent lite (“APL”) claim. APL is in essence the same as spousal support except that it is a statutory entitlement triggered upon filing of a divorce complaint. Spousal support/APL terminates upon the issuance of a divorce decree, but post-divorce financial support may be granted in the form of alimony.
In Pennsylvania, child and spousal support are determined pursuant to established Rules and Guidelines. The Guidelines consider each party’s actual earnings or earning capacity in order to calculate each parent’s share of basic child support and thereafter, spousal support. There is a reduction in the obligor parent’s share of child support if he or she has 40% or more of total parenting time. In addition, the Rules require parents to share expenses such as health insurance, child care and some activity expenses (especially if the child has been actively involved in a particular activity). As for non-reimbursed medical expenses, the Guideline support amount includes up to $250 for out-of-pocket costs every year. When the out-of-pocket costs exceed the annual $250 threshold, the additional expenses will be allocated between the parents in proportion to their incomes.
Once there is a support Order, does that mean the parties are forever stuck with the terms of the Order until it expires? The answer is ‘no’. First, child support terminates once a child turns 18 years of age or he/she graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. Where a child has special needs or disability, that impact the child’s ability to self-support, the Court may order child support to continue beyond the age of 18 and high school graduation. A party may seek modification of a support obligation, but in doing so, must show evidence of significant changed circumstance, such as a substantial change in income. A new support Order may be entered reflecting the changed circumstances.
As mentioned above, a spouse may also receive financial support in the form of post- divorce alimony. Many statutory factors must be considered when awarding alimony to a spouse, such as the relative earnings and earning capacities of the parties, ages and health conditions of the parties, relative needs of the parties, and the length of the marriage. More often than not, an alimony award is for a definite period of time and may be modifiable upon showing of significant change in circumstances. It is important for those seeking alimony to keep in mind that alimony is not designed to equalize parties’ incomes or be punitive in nature, but is rather meant to address the reasonable needs of the person who is unable to become self-supportive through appropriate employment are met. (FN1)