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New York Permanent Alimony Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is permanent alimony?

A. New York permanent alimony does not have any set duration in which it will end. Most alimony today is durational rather than permanent except in certain specific situations. Permanent alimony is also known as “non-durational” alimony.

Q. How does a judge figure out length of time of alimony?

A. A noncompulsory advisory schedule is set out in Domestic Relations Law § 236B(6)(f) for New York judges to use as a starting place for considering the duration of alimony. It ties the length of the marriage to the length of the alimony award:

  • Time married
  • 0 to 15 years
  • 15 to 20 years
  • More than 20 years
  • Duration of alimony based on time married
  • 15% - 30% of the time married
  • 30% - 40% of the time married
  • 35% - 50% of the time married

Even if permanent alimony is not specifically granted, in some cases where the payee spouse is older and the couple were married a long time, even an award based on this formula would have the effect of lifetime alimony.

However, the judge may specifically award permanent alimony under certain circumstances. First of all, a judge need not use the above calculation at all, and if they do so, it is only a starting point. Judges should also consider a number of other statutory factors in order to reach an alimony result that is “just and proper”.

Q. Who can get lifetime alimony?

A. There are three factors that judges rely heavily upon when determining whether or not they should grant permanent alimony.

  • Age: If the payee spouse was not self-supporting, perhaps because they stayed home to take care of the house or children, and are not of an age where it is likely they will be able to build a career of their own and become self-supporting, they are a good candidate for permanent alimony. They need not be in their 70’s; even if they are in their late 40’s, it is possible they could be awarded permanent alimony. The court will consider whether or not marital property they may be awarded in the divorce would afford them an income. An example of this might be commercial real estate with a good income.
  • Illness: If a payee is too ill or disabled to become self-sufficient, a court may award them permanent alimony
  • Inability to financially support themselves: If a spouse is unable to support themselves for any reason, a court may award them permanent alimony.
Q. If a judge orders permanent alimony, can they change it later?

A. Permanent alimony continues until

  • The death of either party
  • The payee spouse remarries
  • The payee spouse lives with a partner they represent at their spouse
  • An extreme decline in financial circumstances of the payer spouse
Q. When can I get permanent alimony?

A. Post-divorce permanent alimony in New York is awarded when the judge hands down the final divorce decree. Before that time, the lawyer for the payee spouse can file a motion for temporary alimony to support the spouse until the divorce is finalized.

Q. Is permanent “alimony” different from permanent “spousal maintenance”?

A. They are the same thing. The New York statutes refer to “maintenance,” but people often use the term “alimony” in conversation.

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