Divorce Spousal SupportFormer California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has filed paperwork with the Court in California requesting that his spousal support obligation be suspended.

If Arnold is asking for the suspension of the Order, he must be under a current Court Order to support his estranged wife, Maria Schriver. 

The news article did not mention the reason the suspension was requested, so let’s speculate on the possible reasons under Pennsylvania law.

First, it is important to keep in mind that one spouse’s obligation to financially support the other spouse is very well established in Pennsylvania law.  The spouse who has the higher income has an obligation to pay spousal support to the other spouse.  A spousal support order will be entered by the court if the following criteria are met: 1) the parties must be married and not living in the same household; 2) there must be a disparity in income between the spouses; and 3) the income inferior spouse (the obligee) must file a complaint for support against the income superior spouse (the obligor).  It is important to note that there is no requirement in Pennsylvania that there be a divorce action pending between the parties.

The amount of spousal support is based on a simple mathematical formula – the amount of spousal support is equal to 40% of difference between the incomes or earning capacities of the parties.  The percentage is smaller (30%) if the obligor also has an obligation to pay child support to the obligee.  Remember, the obligee would also be receiving child support, which is calculated first and deducted from the obligor’s income before calculating spousal support.

The Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, specifically the support guidelines, explain how to deal with various support scenarios such as the obligor being the person who is to receive child support and the children having their own income.

Under Pennsylvania law, other than challenging any of the three criteria set forth above, the only significant defense to spousal support is an “entitlement defense.”  If the obligee engaged in such conduct during the course of the parties’ marriage that would allow the obligor to obtain a fault divorce, then the obligee is not entitled to spousal support. So, for example, if Maria Schriver had engaged in adulterous activity, she would not be entitled to spousal support.  In the actual Schriver-Schwarzenegger divorce, Arnold is the person who has engaged in adultery – and there is a 10 year old child as proof of the adultery.  There have been no reports of any inappropriate behavior by Ms. Schriver that would form the basis of a claim to stop Arnold’s spousal support obligation.

I suspect, therefore, that Arnold is probably claiming that either he can not afford the Court-ordered amount of spousal support or that Maria has a greater income or earning capacity than what the Court considered previously.

Any spousal support Order entered by the Court in Pennsylvania would continue until the first to occur of 1) the entry of a divorce decree, 2) the death of either party , 3)  the Court terminates the Order, or 4) the parties agree to end the Order.  Until either the first two options occur, however, spousal support in Pennsylvania is modifiable upon the showing of a substantial change in circumstances.  So, if Arnold’s spousal support Order is not suspended now, he just may say “I’ll be back.”

About the Author:
Michael L. Viola, Esquire, has been practicing family law in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area for more than twenty years.  Mr. Viola maintains a blog, 1phillydivorcelawyer.wordpress.com. More information about Mr. Viola can be found on his firm website: www.shainberg.com.