Introduction to New York spousal maintenance

New York alimony law uses formulas, guidelines and specific direction to judges.

One of the most important aspects of divorce is whether spousal maintenance will be awarded and the terms of that order. The impact on both parties of maintenance payments can make a huge difference on each of their standards of living. In New York, the laws that control how spousal maintenance is determined in court are among the most complex in the nation.

Legal counsel recommended

Because of this complexity, it is important that anyone facing divorce in the Empire State seek advice from an experienced family lawyer. Whether the parties negotiate a settlement agreement or end up in court having the judge decide maintenance, a thorough understanding of New York spousal maintenance law is essential. An attorney will explain the law in detail, especially how a judge is likely to apply it to the spouses' circumstances.

Temporary maintenance

During the pendency of a divorce proceeding, the parties may agree or the court may award temporary maintenance to be paid from one spouse to the other. State law has detailed standards for determining appropriate temporary maintenance.

Postdivorce maintenance

Postdivorce maintenance begins after the divorce is final and is either pursuant to the parties' settlement agreement, in which the parties may have chosen a maintenance arrangement that is different than that a judge would have likely awarded, or pursuant to a court order.

When a New York judge decides on a maintenance award, he or she will first look at statutory guidelines that include mathematical formulas to determine an appropriate award. The formulas consider mainly the parties' annual incomes, child support and who is the custodial parent. The formulas calculate maintenance for incomes up to an income cap, which at the time of this writing in May 2017 is $178,000 (increased periodically according to the consumer price index).

The judge must award the amount of maintenance according to the guidelines, unless he or she finds the amount "unjust or inappropriate" based any of 15 specific factors:

  • The parties ages and health
  • Earning capacities and work histories
  • Educational or training needs
  • Child support
  • "Dissipation of marital property" without fair compensation in contemplation of divorce
  • How long the parties had a joint household or how long they have had separate households
  • Actions by one party that impact negatively the other's ability to get meaningful work or his or her earning capacity
  • "Availability and cost" of medical insurance for each party
  • History of caring for disabled or elder family members during the marriage that impacts that person's earning capacity
  • Tax consequences
  • Marital standard of living
  • Reduced earning capacity of the recipient because of "having forgone or delayed education, training, employment or career opportunities" during marriage
  • The division of property in the divorce and income from distributed assets
  • Contributions of the recipient as a "spouse, parent, wage earner and homemaker" and to the career of the other spouse
  • Anything else "just and proper"

The judge may use these factors to award a different amount of maintenance form the guidelines or to adjust an award to take into account income of a payor over the cap.

The factors are also to be weighed in setting maintenance duration and the judge may also consider an advisory duration schedule based on a percentage of the length of the marriage.

This article introduces a complicated, detailed area of New York law. Questions should be posed to a family lawyer.

The attorneys at Daniella Levi & Associates, P.C., with offices in Fresh Meadows, the Bronx and in Manhattan represent divorce clients throughout New York City.