The 1980s/90s heartthrob David Hasselhoff has hit the headlines again, this time because he claims he has less than $4,000 to his name and cannot pay the over $252,000 alimony obligation he has to his former wife. Hasselhoff argues that although he grosses upwards of $112,000 per month, he spends $66,000 per month and cannot possibly meet his obligations. Although Mr. Hasselhoff may want to speak with a financial planner about managing his money, his situation can lead other payors of alimony to wonder if and when they might be entitled to a modification in their alimony or spousal support obligation in Pennsylvania.
First, it is necessary to note that there are three different types of “spousal support” under Pennsylvania law. The first of these is aptly termed spousal support. Spousal support is paid by the higher-earning spouse when parties are living apart but there is no pending divorce. Spousal support is determined by a formula found in Pennsylvania statutes. When spouses do not have a child support order, the higher-earning spouse will be obligated to pay 40% of the difference in the income. When a child support order is in effect, spousal support totals 30% of the difference in incomes minus the child support obligation.
Once a divorce is filed, the spousal support obligation is termed Alimony Pendente Lite (APL). Despite the change in name, the formula is the same. In terms of both spousal support and APL, the higher-earning spouse can be obligated to provide their spouse with health insurance until the divorce decree is entered. Because orders for spousal support and APL are determined by income, if the obligor has an involuntary decrease in their income through the loss of a job or an illness, they can file for a modification. However, expenses are usually not considered in the calculation unless they are extraordinary and necessary such as medical expenses. Thus, if Mr. Hasselhoff had a sudden decrease in income because the sale of ticket sales for his European tour were lack luster, he could attempt to modify his support obligation. However, the court would not likely cut him any slack for spending more than half of his monthly income.
Under Pennsylvania law, alimony (sometimes called permanent alimony) is considered a secondary remedy. This means that alimony is only granted after a divorce is over when the court feels that the equitable distribution award is insufficient. Pennsylvania courts prefer “rehabilitative alimony”, which is granted for a period of a few years to assist the lower-earning spouse to obtain an income that is sufficient to provide for them. Usually, this will be used to pay for college courses and programs to bring a license current. However, in high-income cases, courts or Marriage Settlement Agreements will award a spouse long-term alimony. This award is often harder to modify if there is a change in the income of the higher-earning spouse, especially if it results from a properly executed Marriage Settlement Agreement. In order to ensure the ability to modify the alimony obligation, the payor should ensure that there is a clause permitting them to modify support or break downs the obligations based on the income of the payor. If you would like to ensure you have a Marriage Settlement Agreement that ensures your ability to modify your alimony obligations, contact our offices today!