Superior Court Affirms York County Judge’s Ruling Which Awards Indefinite Alimony To Dependent Spouse

by Laurie A. Saltzgiver, Esquire

In Leicht v. Leicht, 164 A.3d 1246 (2017) The Superior Court upheld the findings of Judge Menges of the York County Court of Common Pleas. This case involved a couple who were both age 50 at the time of their divorce master’s hearing. They had been married for 18 years prior to their separation and had 3 children who were all adults. Husband was employed in a manufacturing facility during the marriage and he earned approximately $44,000 per year. Wife worked as a Licensed Practical Nurse during the marriage, however, following the parties’ separation, she suffered from a number of mental and physical illnesses and conditions. Wife was receiving disability benefits at the time of the master’s hearing.

There was minimal marital property to be distributed by the divorce master, and neither party made a claim of marital misconduct in the proceedings. The divorce master determined that wife had no earning capacity and he ordered husband to pay alimony to wife for approximately 1 year. Wife filed exceptions to the Divorce Master’s report and Judge Menges, in ruling on the exceptions, entered an order requiring husband to pay alimony to wife for an indefinite period of time. Husband appealed this Order to the Superior Court. In his appeal, Husband claimed that the award of alimony to Wife was inappropriate because Wife would be entitled to additional government benefits, if she applied for them. The Superior Court agreed with the trial court and found that social welfare benefits are “a last resort, not a first one”, and found that according to prior case law, “alimony should be determined without regard to whether the dependent spouse would be entitled to public assistance or other social welfare benefits.” The Superior Court inferred that, pursuant to the Divorce Code, Wife’s financial welfare was Husband’s responsibility and thereafter, social welfare benefits could be utilized to subsidize Wife’s other resources.