House Bill No. 1250 stands to change the way that spousal support and alimony pendente lite (APL) is determined in Pennsylvania. Instead of using the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines to determine the amount of support subject to certain deviations, House Bill 1250 will focus on the "basic needs" of the petitioning spouse. Alimony pendente lite is an order for temporary support granted to a spouse during the pendency of the divorce. Spousal support is defined as care, maintenance and financial assistance.
The Bill reads, in part, that the court may allow a spouse "reasonable alimony pendente lite or spousal support upon determining the that the income and resources of the petitioning spouse are insufficient to provide for that spouse's basic needs, including the costs of prosecuting or defending the action." It also provides for an award of reasonable counsel fees and expenses and the authority to award exclusive use of the family home or any other dwelling which is available for use as a residence of either party. It also may direct adequate health and hospitalization insurance coverage be maintained for the dependent spouse pendente lite. The Bill also provides that a determination of either types of support may not be based solely upon any rule of court setting forth presumptive guidelines for the calculation of support or upon the party's standard of living during the marriage.
The purpose of the change in APL and spousal support, according to the memorandum by Representative Sheryl M. Dozier, is that the current "guidelines don't even take into account what should be threshold questions: Can the parties independently meet their own needs? Will one party otherwise be disadvantaged in the divorce process if not granted temporary financial support? Over-reliance on a formal that does not take into account the purpose of APL into account, the fact that the payments end only wen the divorce is finalized and the fact that APL awards are unappealable all work together to encourage inefficiency and unfair dealing." The memo also goes on to state that the use of the guidelines have turned into "a tool for financial coercion."
The current support guidelines which may be found at Pa. R.C.P. 1910 16-4 were promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. They allow for a rebuttable presumption of support subject to certain deviations found at Pa. R.C.P. 1910.16-5(b)(9) such as: unusual needs and unusual fixed obligations, other support obligations, relative assets and liabilities of the parties, standard of living of the parties and their children, and the duration of the marriage among other factors. Read all of the factors here.
The guidelines provide some uniformity and predicability as to how spousal support and alimony pendente lite will be determined. A focus on the "basic needs" of the spouse will likely require a more detailed hearing process to determine the actual "basic needs" of the petitioning spouse as well as the income of the parties, which may further delay and harm both the dependent and paying spouse.
House Bill No. 1250 was referred to the judiciary on April 19, 2017.