Alimony & Spousal Support

A Lengthy Period Of Spousal Support Was Not An Abuse Of Discretion

In the spousal support, family law and divorce case of Ayman W. v.  Magy W., PICS Case No. 15-1062 (Pa. Super July 6, 2015) the Honorable David N. Wecht, writing on behalf of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, ruled that the trial court did not err or abuse its discretion in awarding wife a lengthy period of spousal support where wife was unable to support herself due to her lack of work experience and intellectual disability in addition to her childcare obligations. The order of the trial court was affirmed in part.

The parties met in Egypt in 2000. Wife had been diagnosed with “chronic mental retardation of unclear etiology.” In 1989, she was assessed with an IQ of 47 and in 1992; she was assessed with an IQ of 63.

The parties met as a result of discussions between husband and wife’s uncle. The parties were engaged on Oct. 6, 2000, and married in Egypt in 2001. The trial court found that husband had entered into the marriage with full knowledge of wife’s disability. Thereafter wife returned to Pennsylvania.

According to testimony offered at trial, wife and her family helped husband acquire the proper paperwork to enter the United States. Husband then came to Pennsylvania. Although he and wife were both working in 2001, they resided with wife’s family. The parties had one child during the course of the marriage.

Ultimately, husband left wife to pursue his career as a veterinarian. He now lives in Arizona with his fiancée. On Feb. 14, 2013, the trial court entered an order in this divorce matter awarding wife 60 percent of the marital estate. Significantly, the trial court also awarded wife alimony of $1,200 per month until December 31, 2025, the year in which the parties’ minor child will turn 21 years old.

On appeal, the Superior Court considered whether the trial court erred or abused its discretion in awarding wife alimony. Alimony is a secondary remedy that is available when equitable distribution cannot achieve economic justice, the court observed.  Alimony ensures that the dependent spouse who cannot self-support through employment can meet his or her reasonable needs.

In awarding alimony, the trial court considered that wife had not been employed in the nine years since her child’s birth. Given wife’s lack of work experience and her intellectual disability, the trial court determined that she had no earning capacity because she would not be able to obtain viable, self-supporting employment.

The trial court also explicitly considered that wife was responsible for the parties’ child, which left her unable to work. Moreover, wife’s mother was her financial guardian because she was unable to control her own finances. The trial court noted its concern that, when wife’s parents died, wife would be on her own for the first time.

This record supported the trial court’s factual conclusions and the alimony award, the Superior Court concluded. While the duration of the alimony award was lengthy, the facts and circumstances of the case were unusual. The court found that the record supported the trial court’s factual conclusions and the alimony award.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly. 38 PLW 672 (July 21, 2015)

Filed Under: Spousal Support; Family Law

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