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New York Spousal Support

If you are in the middle of a divorce or considering one, understanding spousal maintenance—also known as spousal support or alimony—is critical. According to DRL § 236 B(1)(a), maintenance involves payments from one current or former spouse to another based on a court order or agreement. Here are key points about spousal maintenance. First, the determination of spousal maintenance amounts is guided by statutory formulas, but the court retains some discretion based on the specifics of your case. Second, spousal maintenance can be temporary, lasting only for the divorce proceedings, or permanent, continuing after the divorce is finalized. Third, spousal maintenance payments can be structured in a variety of ways. Given that each divorce scenario is unique, gaining an understanding of what you might expect financially is essential. To ensure you are in the best possible financial position post-divorce, consulting with a knowledgeable New York spousal maintenance lawyer is advised. Stephen Bilkis & Associates, with over two decades of experience in family law, can provide the expert guidance you need.

Different Types Of Spousal Maintenance

In New York, spousal maintenance, which can be awarded during and after divorce proceedings, is categorized into two main types: temporary maintenance and post-divorce maintenance. Each type serves a different purpose and is governed by specific statutes that outline how such maintenance is to be calculated and awarded.

Temporary Maintenance. Temporary maintenance, also known as pendente lite maintenance, is designed to provide financial support while the divorce proceedings are ongoing. This type of maintenance ensures that the lower-earning spouse can maintain a reasonable standard of living during the divorce process. The calculation of temporary maintenance follows a specific formula set forth in Domestic Relations Law § 236 Part B(5-a). This formula considers the income of both spouses, with adjustments for child support payments if applicable.

In F.A. v. S.A., 77, Misc. 3d 1228 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2023), the court discussed the distinction between temporary maintenance and post-divorce maintenance. The plaintiff, who had been ordered to pay temporary maintenance during the pendency of the divorce proceeds, wanted the court to terminate the temporary maintenance obligations. The court declined. Despite the defendant's arguments that the paid maintenance reached a midpoint consistent with statutory guidelines and his financial challenges, the court concluded that the conditions did not warrant a cessation of the maintenance payments at that time.

The court emphasized the distinction between temporary and post-divorce maintenance, clarifying that the advisory schedule proposed by the defendant was specifically applicable to post-divorce scenarios, not to temporary maintenance. The court held that temporary maintenance should only end upon the issuance of a divorce judgment or the death of either party, unless otherwise specified in a court order. Additionally, it noted that while the length of the marriage is a factor in determining the duration of temporary maintenance, it is not the sole determinant.

Post-Divorce Maintenance. Once the divorce is finalized, post-divorce maintenance may be granted to help the recipient spouse become financially independent or maintain a lifestyle similar to that enjoyed during the marriage, depending on the length of the marriage and other marital circumstances. The duration of post-divorce maintenance is not strictly formulaic and can vary significantly based on factors listed in DRL § 236 Part B(6). These factors include the age and health of both parties, present and future earning capacity, and the need for one party to undergo training or education to become self-sufficient. The court has considerable discretion in determining both the amount and the duration of post-divorce maintenance, aiming to achieve fairness based on the circumstances presented.

Both types of maintenance are critical tools in ensuring that financial disparities are addressed during and after the divorce, helping to mitigate the economic impact of the divorce on the lower-earning spouse.

Determining Spousal Maintenance Award

The calculation of spousal maintenance, particularly temporary maintenance, is primarily guided by a formula specified in DRL § 236 Part B(5-a). This formula adjusts according to the parties’ income and whether the payor is also paying child support. The law provides specific income caps for these calculations, which may be periodically adjusted to reflect changes in economic conditions.

For post-divorce maintenance, the court shifts from a strict formula to a more discretionary approach based on a set of factors listed in DRL § 236 Part B(6). These include, but are not limited to:

  • The age and health of both parties,
  • The present and future earning capacity of both parties,
  • The need of one party to incur training or education expenses,
  • The existence and duration of a pre-marital joint household,
  • Acts by one party against another that have inhibited the other’s earning capacity,
  • The ability of the party seeking maintenance to become self-supporting, and
  • The reduced or lost earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance due to having forgone or delayed education, training, employment, or career opportunities during the marriage.

In AW v PW 2022 NY Slip Op 51177(U), the court issued a detailed explanation as to how the amount of spousal maintenance is determined. The Plaintiff and Defendant were married in 1999 and share two minor children. The central issue in the case was the determination of appropriate spousal and child support payments. The court ordered the Defendant to pay monthly spousal maintenance of $172.86 starting in November 2022, and retroactive payments totaling $691.44 for the months from July to October 2022.

The court's decision was bases on detailed financial assessments of both parties, as required by DRL § 236. These assessments included evaluating both parties' income from all sources, including wages, deferred compensation, and benefits. Deductions for taxes and other mandatory expenses were considered to determine net incomes.

While the formula provides a starting point for temporary maintenance calculations, judges have considerable discretion in setting the final spousal maintenance award. They may adjust the formulaic amount based on any unjust or inappropriate results, considering the standard of living established during the marriage, the duration of the marriage, and the contributions of each party to the marriage, including contributions as a homemaker or parent.

This discretionary approach ensures that the spousal maintenance awarded reflects the unique circumstances of each case, promoting fairness and allowing adjustments based on practical realities and the needs of both parties. To get an idea as to how much spousal maintenance you will be required to pay or entitled to receive, contact an experienced New York spousal maintenance lawyer.

Structure Of Spousal Maintenance

The structure of spousal maintenance in New York is designed to address the financial needs of the lower-earning spouse post-divorce, ensuring that financial support is provided in a manner that is both practical and fair under the specific circumstances of each case.

Spousal maintenance can be structured in several ways, depending on the agreement between the parties or the court's decision:

  • Lump-Sum Payment: This is a one-time payment made in place of ongoing maintenance payments. It can be useful in cases where the payor prefers to settle their obligation at once or where both parties wish to sever financial ties completely.
  • Periodic Payments: The most common structure, periodic payments, are typically made on a monthly basis. This structure provides a steady income stream for the receiving spouse and can be easier for the paying spouse to manage financially over time.
  • Property Transfer: Instead of, or in addition to, money payments, the court may order the transfer of property as part of the maintenance arrangement. This might include real estate, stocks, or other assets.

According to DRL § 236 Part B, the court considers various factors in determining the appropriate structure of spousal maintenance. These factors include each party's financial resources, the duration of the marriage, the age and health of both parties, and the ability of the receiving spouse to become self-sufficient.

The duration of spousal maintenance can vary widely. Temporary maintenance is typically set for the duration of the divorce proceedings. Post-divorce maintenance may be durational or non-durational. Durational maintenance is set for a specific period, which may be extended under circumstances like long-term marriages or if the recipient cannot become self-supporting due to age or health conditions.

The maintenance structure is ultimately aimed at balancing the financial independence and wellbeing of the receiving spouse with the financial ability of the paying spouse, making it crucial for the maintenance structure to be tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of the parties involved.

Modifying Spousal Maintenance

Modifying spousal maintenance in New York involves a detailed legal framework that allows for adjustments based on changes in circumstances after the original maintenance order is issued. These modifications are governed by sections of the Domestic Relations Law and the Family Court Act, providing avenues for either party to seek adjustments to the maintenance terms.

Under DRL § 236 Part B(9), spousal maintenance can be modified if there is a substantial change in circumstances. This could include significant changes in income, employment status, health conditions of either party, or other factors that materially affect the financial ability of the payor or the financial needs of the recipient. Additionally, the statute acknowledges the possibility of modification when the recipient spouse remarries or enters into a new domestic partnership that fundamentally changes their need for support.

Similarly, the Family Court Act § 451 allows for modifications based on a showing of a substantial change in circumstances or upon a finding that the continued enforcement of the original order would be unjust or oppressive. This act is typically invoked in cases initially handled through the Family Court system, such as child support and maintenance orders outside of divorce proceedings.

Criteria for Modification. To successfully modify a maintenance order, the party seeking the change must demonstrate that the circumstances since the last order have materially changed to such an extent that the terms of the original agreement or order are no longer equitable. Common examples include a payor's job loss, significant involuntary reduction in income, the recipient’s substantial increase in income, or serious health issues affecting either party's financial standing. In addition, the parties can agree to terminate a spousal support obligation. That’s what happened in Makris v. Makris, 179 A.D.3d 694 (N.Y. App. Div. 2020). When the spouse who had been receiving payments asked the court to enforce the spousal maintenance obligation years after the paying spouse had stopped paying, the court instead found evidence of an agreement to terminate spousal maintenance.

Process of Seeking Modification. If you would like to modify your spousal maintenance order, contact an experienced spousal maintenance attorney in New York. Modifications are not automatic and require a formal process including filing a petition with the court that issued the original maintenance order. The petition must detail the changes in circumstances and explain why these changes warrant a revision of the maintenance terms. The court will then review the petition, and both parties may be required to present evidence supporting their positions before a decision is made.

Effect of a Prenuptial of Postnuptial Agreement

If a pre- or postnuptial agreement is in place that addresses the issue of spousal maintenance, in the absence of fraud or some other illegality, the agreement is binding. Many such agreements address spousal maintenance. In some cases a pre- or post-nuptial agreement will state that neither party will be entitled to it- permanent or otherwise.

Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates

If you are facing challenges related to spousal maintenance, whether you are seeking support or required to provide it, getting the right legal advice is critical. At Stephen Bilkis & Associates, our experienced spousal maintenance attorneys serving New York offer expert legal guidance and representation in matters of spousal maintenance. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in Nassau County, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, Long Island, Manhattan, Staten Island, Suffolk County, and Westchester County, providing dedicated support and tailored legal strategies to protect your financial interests.

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