Alimony & Spousal Support

Husband is Under an Obligation to Pay His Wife Alimony Pendent Lite While He Exhausts His Appeal Rights

In the family law, equitable distribution, spousal support case of Gabriel v. Gabriel, PICS Case No, 14-0777, (C.P. Lawrence, April 14, 2014), the Honorable John W. Hodge ruled that while husband was exercising his ability to appeal the court’s final economic order in the parties’ equitable distribution matter, he was still under an obligation to pay wife alimony pendent lite and, therefore, the court granted wife’s motion to correct alimony pendent lite arrearages.

The parties were married in 1982 and separated in 2006. Shortly after separation, wife filed a complaint in divorce and asserted claims for economic relief. The case was bifurcated and the parties appeared before an equitable distribution master. The parties were divorced by decree entered in August 2009.

During the marriage, husband established a franchise with Ameriprise Financial Inc. Ameriprise was the only significant economic asset of the marriage and division of this asset was the primary issue litigated during equitable distribution proceedings.

After the master issued a report and recommended order, the court of common pleas entered an order resolving wife’s economic claims. The court directed husband to pay wife $3,332 per month in spousal support, plus $200 per month toward arrearages, effective Nov. 25, 2008.

On appeal, the Superior Court affirmed. According to the court’s final economic order, wife was awarded 65 percent of the Ameriprise franchise, or $228,800. If husband was unable to pay wife in a lump sum, he could pay on a monthly basis over a period of 10 years, at six percent interest. The court awarded wife $2,000 per month alimony until she reached 62 years of age.

After the Superior Court affirmed the court’s final order, wife filed a motion to compel/petition for special relief as well as a related motion to correct alimony pendent lite (APL) arrears. At a hearing on the matter, husband agreed that pursuant to a court order dated June 28, 2010, wife was entitled to 65 percent of the value of Ameriprise, equaling $228,800. Husband asserted, however, that he had paid additional sums each month on his support obligation, with the intention that such over-payments would constitute payment on wife’s equitable distribution award. Wife agreed that husband had made over-payments, but disputed the amount of those over-payments.

The court found that procedurally, a determination with respect to wife’s award of alimony would terminate husband’s obligation to pay wife APL. Wife was entitled to receive $3,332 each amount for money designated as APL. Upon implementation of an alimony award, the monthly amount owed to wife would be reduced to $2,000.

As such, the court noted that the effective date of wife’s alimony award greatly affected the amount of credit owed to husband. Husband argued that wife’s alimony award should begin immediately after the issuance of the court order dated June 28, 2010. According to husband, all payments made to domestic relations after that date should be characterized as alimony, thereby increasing the amount of over-payments he made.

Wife asserted that she was entitled to APL while husband appealed the final economic order; therefore, the alimony award should not commence prior to Sept. 30, 2012. The court noted that spousal support and APL are distinct concepts. The duty to pay spousal support is derived from marital obligations, and such support is designed to ensure a dependent spouse a reasonable living allowance.

By contract, APL is designed to allow a dependent spouse to pursue a divorce proceeding and defend, on equal footing, the economic claims between the parties. The court explained that APL, which is allowable to either spouse during the pendency of an action, is not dependent on the status of the parties but on the state of the litigation.

While APL typically ends at the award of divorce decree, if an appeal was pending of matters of equitable distribution, despite the entry of a decree, APL would continue throughout the appeal and any remand until a final order had been entered. After considering relevant case law, the court found it clear that wife was entitled to APL throughout the duration of the litigation in this matter.

Thus, while husband was exercising his ability to appeal the court’s final economic order, he was still under an obligation to pay wife APL. Upon exhaustion of the appeal process and remand, wife’s APL terminated and her entitlement to alimony began. Accordingly the court granted wife’s motion to correct APL arrearages.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly; 37PLW4967 May 27, 2014

Filed Under: Family Law; Equitable Distribution Proceedings: Alimony Pendent Lite

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