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Alimony in PA: Friend or Foe in Divorce?

I am amazed at how often both the purpose and spirit of alimony are misunderstood by receiving spouses in a divorce matter. I had a client last week, who is the payor of alimony, refer to it as "immoral, antiquated" and "nothing more than legalized extortion."

Granted that alimony is a bitter pill to swallow for the paying spouse in a divorce who is already on the hook for a myriad of other obligations, it has become the "black sheep" of divorce law, often viewed as evil, greedy, spiteful, selfish, retaliatory and punitive. These perceptions are greatly misguided, in my opinion. 

Instead, alimony’s purpose is to provide basic support for a spouse emerging from a divorce who is in need of financial assistance to pay their day-to-day expenses as they work to rebuild their own financial future, or to provide assistance if they are incapable of gainful employment after divorce due to a disability. In this sense, alimony is entirely moral and appropriate, but only when it is necessary.

The operative word here is "necessary." Too often in litigated divorces, recipient spouses who are told they are entitled to alimony believe they can just fill in a blank check with whatever amount they wish, forgetting that there are only a limited amount of funds to go around. They are often able to justify their approach because of the bitterness and resent they may already feel towards their spouse. Alimony then becomes a vehicle for them to punish their spouse for all the supposed wrong they did during the marriage leading up to the divorce.

In general, it is immoral to take more than you need. When spouses in a divorce seek to take more alimony than they reasonably need, they risk harming their spouse both financially and emotionally, as well as their entire family, if children are involved. 

If you are a spouse who is entitled to alimony in a divorce and are tempted to raise the bar high on your request, please think again. First, a court may not grant your request and you will come off looking selfish, putting you in disfavor with your spouse. If a court does grant your request, and at such a level that your spouse is unable to pay it, he/she will soon end up before the court again in a contempt proceeding that could land them in jail, as a worst case scenario.

In divorce mediation, since the focus is not on winning and losing at all costs, but rather on ensuring the financial security of both spouses and their family as they emerge from the divorce, spouses can examine their respective budgets to determine both what the receiving spouse reasonably needs to live and what the paying spouse can afford before they agree on what is a fair amount to be awarded. To be sure, they achieve a result that is most fair, moral and ethical.

The moral is summed up rather nicely by a refrain from a popular Rolling Stones classic:

                                 "No, you can’t always get what you want

                                  No, you can’t always get what you want

                                  No, you can’t always get what you want

                                  But if you try sometime, you just might find

                                  You get what you need"


Cris Pastore

Cris Pastore, Esq. is president and attorney-mediator at Main Line Family Law Center, a divorce mediation firm with 7 offices along the Main Line and Center City, Philadelphia. A practicing attorney for over 20 years, Cris has focused exclusively on divorce mediation since 2007, when he grew increasingly frustrated by destructive… MORE >

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