In many states, the terms “alimony” and “spousal support” are essentially interchangeable. The legal system in these states may consider the term “alimony” out of date and prefer the term “spousal support” instead. In Pennsylvania, however, the terms alimony and spousal support refer to arrangements that take place at different points in the divorce process. If you and your spouse are in the midst of a divorce, it may be helpful to understand the difference between the two terms in the eyes of Pennsylvania law.

According to FindLaw, after finalization of the divorce proceeding legally ends the marriage, the financial support provided by one ex-spouse to the other is specifically referred to as alimony. The purpose of alimony is rehabilitative, to give the spouse who earns less money a chance to secure a source of independent income. Though not meant to be a permanent arrangement, the length of time and the amount of an alimony award can vary greatly from case to case according to the seventeen factors Pennsylvania courts use to determine the receiving spouse’s need. 

The term spousal support, on the other hand, refers to financial support awarded to one spouse before filing for divorce but after a separation has occurred. The courts attempt to award an appropriate amount of spousal support according to existing general guidelines but also take factors like adultery and abuse, as well as the couple’s particular circumstances, into consideration.

There is a third category of spousal maintenance in Pennsylvania called “alimony pendente lite.” Courts award this when the couple is in the midst of a divorce proceeding, or when the divorce is pending. If you or your spouse wish to seek alimony pendente lite, you must demonstrate a financial need when you apply to the court. Even if one spouse has a need, the court will not award alimony pendente lite automatically.

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.