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New York Alimony Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is alimony?

A. Alimony is the money one spouse may pay another upon divorce according to a court-sanctioned agreement or a court order. Today, alimony is usually paid in only about 10% of all cases. Alimony is referred to in New York statutes as spousal maintenance.

Q. Can I get alimony if we have not filed for divorce?

A. A spouse can file a petition in New York Family Court for the other spouse to pay spousal support even if they have not yet filed for divorce. However, this is usually not referred to as “alimony”.

Q. Can alimony only be awarded to women?

A. Either a man or a woman may be awarded alimony depending upon their individual circumstances. However, men are alimony recipients in only about 3% of the cases nationwide.

Q. How does a judge decide how much alimony to give one of the spouses?

A: A few years ago, New York revised the statute that governs alimony in an attempt to make alimony awards more consistent from case to case. Judges now begin their determination by using a formula based on the incomes of the parties. The formula for cases that involve child support is somewhat different from those without child support.

The judge will begin the determination of alimony amount with one of two statutory formulas depending on whether or not child support will also be paid. New York law puts a cap on the income of the payer’s income for purposes of the calculation, but if the payer’s income is greater than the cap, the court is obliged to look at several other factors in order to arrive at a just result for the alimony figure. In fact, even if the payer’s income is under the cap, a judge can still consider other factors if a just result demands it.

These factors include age and health, earning capacity, length of the marriage and how long the parties were together before the marriage, whether one spouse gave up their career to support the other spouse and many more factors. The judge actually has quite a bit of discretion even though they begin the alimony calculation with a statutory formula.

Q. What does the court need to know about my finances to determine alimony?

A. Both spouses must reveal to the court all of their income and property. The court will expect to see financial records, tax returns, pay stubs and any other kind of documentation that reveals financial and property status. Once a court has these documents, it will set a schedule for valuation of property. Property spouses receive and whether or not it can produce income may have an impact on an alimony award.

Q. Can I get alimony before my divorce is final?

A. Yes, many divorces go on for months or even years. In order to prevent hardship, the state of New York enables you to petition the court for temporary maintenance as soon as the divorce is filed. When the divorce is final if not before, the temporary maintenance will end. Of course, a judge may then award post-divorce alimony.

Q. Can I ask a court for a change in alimony later?

A. Yes, you may be able to get an alimony modification if there is an extreme change in circumstances such as the payer spouse retiring or involuntarily losing their job.

Q. How long does alimony last?

A: Alimony is intended to give the recipient time and financial cushion to become self-sufficient. Alimony is normally durational that is, it has a set duration, normally long enough for the payee spouse to become self-sufficient. New York judges begin their deliberation of the length of alimony to award with a noncompulsory advisory schedule set out by statute. The schedule takes the length of the marriage into account in order to determine how long alimony should last.

To decide the duration, of alimony, judges may use an advisory schedule provided by the state of New York that lists the percent of time the couple were married as a guideline for duration of alimony. However, judges consider a number of other factors and are not required to use the schedule at all.

Q. Is alimony ever permanent?

In New York, if a marriage lasts a long time and a spouse is old, ill or unable to support themselves, permanent alimony may be awarded.

However, alimony will still end if

  • One of the party dies
  • The recipient spouse remarries
  • The recipient spouse begins to live with a partner they represent as their spouse
Q: Which spouse pays taxes on alimony?

A: Usually the payee spouse will pay taxes and the payer can deduct the amount.

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