Alimony is typically the last issue decided in a Pennsylvania divorce case. For the most part, child custody and support as well as property division are considered greater priorities. Nevertheless, alimony can prove to be a major source of disagreement between former partners. If the parties cannot agree, a judge could step in and make a final order on alimony.

Despite common use of the words interchangeably, alimony and spousal support under Pennsylvania law are different. Legal professionals report that there are actually three distinct awards provided from one party to the other in a divorce — the period after separation but before the divorce is filed, while the divorce is pending but not finalized and after the divorce is final. The later is properly called alimony. There are a number of factors that are considered in the determination of whether alimony will be awarded, in what amount and for what duration.

An important issue is the economic situation of the two spouses. The needs of the recipient are balanced against the ability of the other spouse to pay. Relevant factors include the duration of the marriage, the lifestyle during marriage and the age and health of the parties. Furthermore, any dependent children who could affect a custodial parent’s ability to work might be considered. When possible, courts look to the recipient spouse to take steps towards financial independence as soon as practical.

Although alimony awards are considered final when ordered by the court, a change of circumstances may provide a valid reason to return to court and seek a modification. A family law attorney can provide guidance and counsel on such a matter.