Spousal Maintenance, Alimony, and Spousal Support in New York
Spousal maintenance, spousal support, and alimony all refer to payments made by one spouse to the other to assist with living expenses. When spouses are divorced or in the process of getting divorced, New York law refers to the payments as spousal maintenance, but they are the same as alimony.
When payments are made between spouses who do not intend to divorce, they are known as spousal support. Spouses have a legal obligation to support each other as long as they remain married, and courts often impose an obligation for one spouse to continue to provide support after the marriage has ended. Unlike child support, and in the absence of an agreement by the parties, the decision whether to require spousal maintenance rests largely with the judge’s discretion. Divorcing couples should ensure that their attorneys make the best possible arguments to achieve their objectives for spousal maintenance.
At Nolletti Law Group, we understand the myriad factors that go into a spousal maintenance determination, and we are experienced in presenting to the court all the factors that weigh in our clients’ favor to help get the strongest outcome.
Types of Spousal Maintenance
New York law provides for temporary spousal maintenance to be paid to support one spouse during a divorce proceeding. This is also known as “pendente lite” maintenance.
Post-divorce maintenance is support paid from one former spouse to the other after the divorce becomes final. The sum of temporary maintenance can be modified by the court when determining post-divorce maintenance.
While the decision whether to order spousal maintenance may be left to a judge’s discretion, the amount of both temporary and postdivorce maintenance is generally calculated based on statutory formulas. There is also a formula to determine the duration of maintenance payments.
The statutory formulas take the incomes of each spouse and the duration of the marriage into consideration.
However, the formula is just a guideline and ultimately, the court holds the discretion to adjust the amounts, depending upon the facts and circumstances of the case, which includes marital lifestyle.
Spousal Maintenance Amount and Duration: Factors
Beyond the formulas, the court considers the practical needs and responsibilities of each party while moving forward after the divorce. For example, if the parties have young children and the custodial parent cannot re-enter the workforce without additional school or training, the duration of maintenance may exceed the guidelines. Conversely, if the non-moneyed spouse has the training and ability to work, income may be imputed even though the spouse is not currently in the workforce.
If the parties had a high standard of living during the marriage and one party has a much higher earning capacity than the other, a court may be more likely to order additional maintenance.
A Change in Circumstances Can Affect Support Payments
A spouse paying support may apply for a reduction of support if an unanticipated change of circumstances occurs. To terminate or modify maintenance, the New York Domestic Relations Law offers two mechanisms. Domestic Relations Law § 236(B)(9)(b)(1) contains two provisions for modification:
- If the maintenance is set forth in a prior order, then any modification requires proof of a substantial change in circumstances
- If the maintenance is set forth in a separation agreement, then extreme hardship must be proven.
Under current case law, the substantial change required to modify a prior order of maintenance is measured by a comparison between the payor's financial circumstances at the time of the motion and at the time the original order was entered.
Both parties have the right to revisit support. The payor has the right to revisit their support obligations if the recipient no longer needs the original level of support or the recipient remarries, and the recipient of maintenance may seek an upward modification if the payor’s income increases.
For the payor to have their support obligations reduced, the change in circumstances must be involuntary. If someone quits their six-figure job as a software engineer to work for minimum wage in a hardware store, a judge will likely impute income to the payor and not reduce the payments. In other words, the judge will not only consider the greatly-reduced income now being earned at the store, but also the amount the payor would be earning if they were still working at the software company.
Contact Nolletti Law Group for Your Divorce-Related Issues
The team at Nolletti Law Group has decades of experience handling complex financial matters connected with divorce, including all aspects of spousal maintenance and support. We work to get the right arrangements during divorce proceedings, but we can also help you modify maintenance arrangements when circumstances change.
We understand that emergencies don’t always occur during regular office hours, so we keep our lines of communication open to handle unexpected developments.
Schedule your initial consultation online or complete the form and we will be ready to assist.