Alimony is very possibly the most disliked aspect of a divorce, and that's saying something. Alimony is a payment made by one spouse to support the other for a set amount of time. This payment can be monthly, annual, or a single lump sum. It's less common these days since more married couples are dual-income than not, but it still matters during plenty of divorces.
Alimony exists because most families were (until recently) single-income households, and so the spouse without a job or income would depend on the one who made money while they lived together. Alimony payments allow the spouse without an income to live on his or her own until he or she can get a job, find another partner or otherwise live independently of the former spouse. After all, a fear of homelessness should not force anyone to live with someone he or she hates.
In Pennsylvania, alimony is completely discretionary. This means that no spouse is ever guaranteed alimony and it's always up to the court and the divorce negotiations to decide what if any payment the former spouse deserves. The state divorce code offers 17 points to consider, but these are guidelines and not rules.
Another guideline is the length of time alimony payments are made. It's a rule of thumb in Pennsylvania to award one year of alimony for every three years of marriage, but it's not a law and no spouse is ever entitled to it. However, if the spouse receiving alimony remarries, the payments end there. A spouse that has been proven to have abused the other or committed adultery (without equal acts by the other spouse) also receives no alimony.
Still, the courts always determine the alimony payment amounts on a case-by-case basis. It depends on a dozen factors like whether the receiving spouse can quickly find a good job, how much the family made before the divorce, who has custody of the kids (if any), how much the spouse with the income can afford to pay, and what the monthly living expenses of the separate households will be.
Because there are so many factors, it's generally better for the spouses and their attorneys to settle on an alimony amount and length during negotiations or mediation rather than take it to court. Doing so will involve more people who aren't very familiar with the situation, and arguing over a fair number can turn into a bitter argument. Alimony might not be as common as it used to be, but it's no less important or troubling when it does come up.