Shouldn’t Support Stop When The Divorce is Final?

A recent Montgomery County, Pennsylvania case, Plisinski v. Plisinski, dealt with something known as alimony pendente lite, or APL for short. APL is a type of support usually paid between spouses while their divorce is pending but not yet final. The question in Plisinski was whether APL should continue during the appeal process, when it was the divorce itself that was being appealed.

In this case, the spouses were going through equitable distribution, which is the process of dividing up their property. The trial judge issued the final divorce and orders and Wife appealed. One of those orders said that Wife was not entitled to alimony (support paid after the divorce is final). The divorce process had lasted several years, and during that time Husband paid Wife $5,363 per month APL. After the Judge’s final order, Husband stopped paying APL. Wife filed petition for contempt, saying that Husband was in contempt of the order because he wasn’t paying APL while the appeal process was going on.

Usually in Pennsylvania when trial court decisions are appealed to the next level court (Superior Court), the trial court no longer has anything to do with the case. However, the trial court does still have the authority to enforce orders already entered in the case, or to keep the status quo. Here the Court said that APL doesn’t depend on the parties’ status but on the state of the litigation. The key point from this case was that the divorce is not final, as far as APL goes, until all appeals are done and the final decree is entered. Husband must continue to pay APL to Wife until the divorce is final and all appeals are exhausted.

Not many background details were provided in this opinion, so it was difficult to tell whether Wife was working outside the home or working at a low paying job or was taking care of young children. It was almost five (5) years after Husband started the divorce by the time the parties went to the trial court. Husband was paying APL through the court for almost two (2) years. Was it reasonable for Husband to assume that he would stop paying APL since the Judge issued the final divorce? Was it reasonable for Wife to expect that she would keep receiving APL, even during the appeal?

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