Pennsylvania Divorce APL Law
By Beverly Bird
The law is full of legal terms, one of which is "pendente lite." This phrase refers to a circumstance or order that lasts only as long as a lawsuit remains open and unresolved. When you add the word alimony to pendente lite, it means a form of spousal support payable until a divorce is final. "APL" stands for "alimony pendente lite" in Pennsylvania, and the state has its own rules regarding it.
Pennsylvania's legislative code is remarkably precise when it comes to alimony issues – much more so than the legislation in some other states. If you know your marriage is ending but neither you nor your spouse has filed for divorce yet, you can ask the court for "spousal support" in this state. You and your spouse must have separated into different households; you can't be contemplating divorce or separation while you still live together. A spousal support order ends when one of you actually files a complaint for divorce. At this point, spousal support automatically becomes alimony pendente lite and continues until your divorce is final. When your divorce litigation ends, so does your APL order, but the court can provide for regular alimony -- which is sometimes just referred to as alimony -- going forward.
In Pennsylvania, each type of alimony has a designated purpose. Spousal support and regular alimony are designed so the receiving spouse can make financial ends meet. APL levels the playing field where litigation expenses are concerned. It enables the receiving spouse to pay for the divorce lawsuit and associated costs. Without such a provision in the law, a wealthier spouse might be able to hire a high-priced attorney while the other is forced to represent herself. This can create an unfair advantage for the higher-earning spouse. When one spouse earns more than the other, a Pennsylvania court is inclined to order a diversion of some of his income to the other spouse for purposes of defending the litigation.
Marriages end for a reason; if the cause of your divorce is anything other than Pennsylvania's no-fault grounds, this can affect a claim for alimony under some circumstances. If your misconduct was responsible for ending your marriage, such as if you committed adultery, you're not eligible for spousal support before the filing of a complaint for divorce. Your spouse can raise an entitlement defense if you ask for it, attempting to convince the court that you don't deserve his financial support because of your actions. Judges can also consider marital misconduct when ordering regular alimony post-divorce. Because APL is technically meant to fund the litigation, however, marital misconduct has no impact on this form of alimony.
Few spouses are overjoyed to pay any form of alimony, and some may attempt to avoid doing so through unemployment or underemployment. If the court determines that this is the case, a Pennsylvania judge can calculate APL based on a spouse's earning capacity rather than his actual income. If that spouse could earn more but doesn't because he's chosen not to work, to work at a job that doesn't pay as much as another he qualifies for, or to work part-time when he's capable of working full-time, the court can impute income to him and base calculations on what he could earn if he chose to do so. After incomes are established, Pennsylvania calculates APL according to statutory support guidelines. This works out to a percentage of the difference between spouses' earnings.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.