Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I Do Equals I Will Support You

Our laws intertwine a duty of support with love and marriage. Generally speaking, if a couple separates, the court will calculate interim support (while the divorce is pending) based on income and/or earning capacity. When resolving the entire divorce matter, and deciding on the alimony question, the court considers a variety of factors. In many cases, the person ordered to pay support/alimony feels that they are paying too much while the person who is receiving the support/alimony feels that it is too little.

On the last day of 2007, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania issued an Opinion in a case where a husband was ordered to pay his former wife $500 per month in alimony for an indefinite period of time, after only a four year marriage. This result is unusual in that, generally speaking, Pennsylvania can be considered a relatively conservative state with regard to alimony, so indefinite awards are not commonplace.

In the case of Lawson v. Lawson, 2007 Pa.Super. 413, (December 31, 2007), husband and wife married in 1998 and separated in 2002, and wife filed a Complaint in Divorce shortly thereafter. There was a sixteen year age difference between husband and wife and husband had a significantly higher earning capacity. While the divorce was still pending, wife suffered a stroke that left her completely disabled, requiring a wheelchair and help for her basic daily needs. The trial court ordered that husband pay wife $500 per month in alimony for an indefinite period of time and continue to provide medical insurance coverage. Husband appealed, citing the short term marriage and the significant debt ($60,000) that he has assumed at equitable distribution. The Superior Court considered each issue raised by husband carefully and addressed the facts and relevant case law, ultimately affirming the trial court’s decision. Accordingly, while an indefinite alimony award is unusual, on the facts of this case, the court felt it appropriate. Read the case here to review the factors a court considers when deciding these issues.