What are Pennsylvania's laws on spousal support?

Understanding Spousal Support in Pennsylvania

Spousal support, often referred to as alimony, is a legal obligation on one spouse to provide financial support to the other during or after a marital separation or divorce. In Pennsylvania, the laws governing spousal support aim to ensure fairness and provide a standard of living similar to that enjoyed during the marriage, particularly for a spouse who may be economically disadvantaged following the separation.

Types of Support in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania recognizes three types of spousal support: spousal support, alimony pendente lite (APL), and alimony. Spousal support is financial assistance provided after separation but before a divorce is filed. Alimony pendente lite, which translates to 'alimony pending litigation,' is similar but is awarded after a divorce action has been filed and serves to maintain the status quo as the divorce process unfolds. Finally, alimony is the support paid after a divorce has been finalized.

Determining Spousal Support

The determination of spousal support in Pennsylvania involves several factors. Unlike child support, there is no strict formula; however, courts will typically consider the length of the marriage, each spouse's earnings or earning potential, age and health of both parties, and whether there are minor children in the household. The goal is to mitigate any unfair economic effects of a divorce by providing a continuing income to a non-wage-earning or lower-wage-earning spouse.

An important notion in Pennsylvania’s spousal support laws is the concept of entitlement. If a spouse seeking support is found to have engaged in marital misconduct such as adultery or abuse, they may be deemed not entitled to such support.

Modification and Termination of Support

Spousal support orders in Pennsylvania are not set in stone. They can be modified if there is a significant change in circumstances, such as an unexpected increase or decrease in either party's income or living expenses. Termination of spousal support can occur when the recipient remarries, cohabitates with another person in a marriage-like relationship, or when either party dies.

Historical Context

The concept of spousal support has ancient roots, tracing back to English common law. Historically, it was almost exclusively awarded to women, reflecting societal norms and legal restrictions on women's ability to earn income. Over time, as societal roles evolved and both spouses began regularly participating in the workforce, Pennsylvania laws have adapted to reflect these changes.


Pennsylvania’s approach to spousal support seeks to balance fairness with practicality. It is an evolving area of law that responds to changing societal norms and economic conditions. For anyone going through a separation or divorce in Pennsylvania, it is critical to understand how these laws apply to your specific situation. Consulting with a knowledgeable family law attorney can provide clarity and ensure that your rights are protected throughout this complex process.