Alimony and Child Support: What is the Difference?


If you are just beginning the divorce process, you’re probably hearing a lot of new terms that you never wanted to know. Alimony and child support are two of the most important, and though some people believe that they are interchangeable, they are actually vastly different. They are also both very important aspects of your divorce proceedings, so it is important to have a good understanding of each.

Child support is a payment provided for the support and care of the children from the marriage, and both parties in a divorce are considered responsible for this. The amount of payment required from both is determined based on guidelines that are calculated by inputting each parent’s financial resources and earning capacity. The obligation to pay child support is considered a priority obligation. This means that all other expenses are to be adjusted in order to accommodate and allow children to receive the amount of support to which they are entitled. Child support payments are calculated to include the costs of health insurance, medical and dental bills, child care expenses, and other costs and needs, including special needs, camps, tutoring, and more. The payments are made to the custodial parent, and that sometimes leads to confusion or a sense that it is a form of alimony, but the funds are specifically meant for the welfare of the child. In cases where the non-custodial parent has custody for 40% or more of the time, the calculated amount of child support to be paid may be reduced.

Alimony describes a payment that one spouse is required to pay to the other following the finalization of their divorce. In Pennsylvania, alimony is preceded by spousal support or alimony pendent lite. Spousal support can be ordered once a couple is separated, even before there is an official filing for divorce, while alimony pendente lite is only applicable once proceedings have begun. In both cases, the amount that is to be paid is calculated based upon established guidelines that direct that the difference between the two spouses’ incomes be calculated and then a percentage of the difference be paid to the party with the lower income. If child support payments are being made then the amount being paid is subtracted from the paying spouse’s income before the calculation is made. By contrast, alimony payments are calculated based upon the discretion of the court and are generally determined through the consideration of seventeen different factors, including the duration of the marriage. Alimony is generally calculated after all of the marital property is divided, and much of the calculation is based upon whether a dependent spouse will be able to support themselves in a reasonable manner.

Much of the attention of a divorce proceeding focuses on issues of money, and this is one of the reasons that it can so quickly become adversarial and contentious. At Smith & Horwitz, we can help you understand these issues and work towards a resolution that is fair and supportive. Call us today to set up a consultation.

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