According to Pennsylvania law, Alimony Pendente Lite (APL), which is monetary support to a spouse during divorce litigation, is discretionary and should be based on the needs of the receiving spouse. In practice, though, it is often a given that one spouse will receive APL regardless of their needs and also that the amount they receive will be based on a formula (either 30 percent or 40 percent of difference of the parties’ net monthly incomes). When the law of Pennsylvania is actually examined, though, this practice is wrong, especially in high-income cases. While others take the opposite position, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not yet ruled on this practice as a final binding determination and the matter is still in flux.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has consistently held that APL may be awarded for two reasons:
- To provide temporary monetary support to the petitioning spouse to maintain the same standard of living they enjoyed during their marriage.
- To provide the dependent spouse with temporary monetary support to prosecute or defend the divorce.
It is up to the trial court to consider the following factors in fashioning an APL award during the divorce proceedings in Pennsylvania:
- The ability of the obligor (spouse) to pay the alimony.
- The separate estate and income of the petitioning party (the spouse asking for this type of alimony).
- The character, situation, and surroundings of the parties.
Reasonable Need Standard for Alimony Pendente Lite Under Pennsylvania Divorce Law
A 2017 Pennsylvania Superior Court decision strongly supports the idea that APL should be based on the reasonable need of the dependent spouse as opposed to relying only on the formula in the Pennsylvania spousal support guidelines.
In that case, the husband’s net monthly income was $56,969 and a straight application of the support guidelines’ 40 percent rule yielded an award of $22,227 per month. The trial court deviated from the 40 percent calculation because it found a monthly award of $22,227 to be excessive in light of the fact that the wife’s expenses totaled only $5,800 per month, and the wife did not show additional expenses or need. Further, the trial court determined that an award of $12,000 was sufficient to enable the wife to live on her own while litigating the divorce in Pennsylvania (even though that amount was higher than the wife’s own stated needs).
The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision in this matter because the $12,000 award was reasonable to meet the wife’s needs. In doing so, the court reiterated that the two purposes of APL are to enable a dependent spouse to maintain the standard of living during the marriage and to defend the divorce.
Support Guidelines Standard for Alimony Pendente Lite Under Pennsylvania Divorce Law
The support guidelines should serve only as a starting point, not the finish line, for the determination of the proper amount of APL in Pennsylvania. The guidelines set forth the formula used to calculate the presumptive amount of APL, and this amount is arguable in every case.
A Pennsylvania Support Guideline that applies to high-income (more than $30,000 combined net monthly income) APL cases under Pennsylvania matrimonial law and implemented in 2010, requires the court to engage in a two-step analysis to calculate the final award:
- As a preliminary analysis, apply the formula – 30 percent (if there are minor children) or 40 percent (if there are no minor children) of the difference of the parties’ net monthly incomes.
- Consider the support guideline deviation factors that include, but are not limited to, unusual needs and fixed obligations of the parties, other support obligations of the parties, the relative assets and liabilities of the parties, the standard of living of the parties, the duration of the marriage, and any other relevant factor, to determine the amount and duration of the award of APL.
To assist a court in examining the support guideline deviation factors and to help determine the final APL award, the divorcing parties must submit an income and expense statement. The mandated exchange of these long-form expense statements in high-income APL cases further underscores the requirement that the reasonable needs of the spouse who will pay the APL must be analyzed to determine the proper amount of APL.
The divorce and family law attorneys of Shemtob Draganosky Taylor can guide you through all of your divorce matters including APL. Call our family lawyers in Montgomery County at (215) 544-3974 for a confidential discussion.