New York State alimony or spousal maintenance is a payment made by an individual to their spouse during or after the dissolution of marriage. NYS alimony laws in the state have changed to match the apparent change in marriages regarding the responsibilities of each spouse.
So, how is alimony determined and calculated in New York State today? This article explains the factors courts consider when deciding spousal maintenance and how it is calculated.
How To Calculate Alimony in New York State
The calculation of alimony in New York is based on a statutory formula provided by the NYS alimony law. This fixed formula ensures that awards for temporary support and post-divorce maintenance are consistent and uniform and that the decision isn’t entirely up to the judge.
Before calculating alimony, the judge must determine whether the requesting spouse qualifies for alimony. Courts consider the following factors in deciding alimony and in setting the amount and duration of spousal maintenance:
- Each spouse’s income and property. The court will consider both spouses’ property, including each party’s share of the marital property after division. Spousal maintenance will likely be lower if the requesting spouse is set to receive a significant share of the marital property or has substantial resources such as an estate.
- Duration of the marriage. Longer marriages often result in larger spousal maintenance awards. This is especially the case if the requesting spouse was a stay-at-home parent who earned little or no income.
- Each spouse’s age and health. A spouse of advanced age or poor health will likely receive a significant maintenance award.
- Both spouses’ earning capacity. To determine a spouse’s ability to become self-supporting, a court will look at both parties’ present and future earning capacity. Maintenance will likely continue for a shorter period if the requesting spouse can get employment and become financially independent. Where the requesting spouse lacks the means to become self-supporting, the court may order long-term maintenance.
- Need for education or training. The main purpose of alimony in NY is to support the dependent spouse to ensure they become financially independent. If the judge determines that maintenance is necessary, it will likely be limited to the period necessary to acquire an education or job training.
- The existence and length of a joint household before the marriage. A joint or separate household affects the court’s determination of the duration of the current marriage, which in turn affects spousal maintenance.
- Marital misconduct. The act of a spouse, especially one that inhibits the earning capacity of the other, often determines spousal maintenance.
- The time and resources needed for a spouse to become self-supporting. If the requesting spouse can become self-supporting by getting a suitable job, the judge will award maintenance necessary to support the spouse as they get to speed. A spouse who may never become self-supporting may be awarded maintenance for longer or for life.
- Whether the requesting spouse has lost or reduced lifetime earning capacity. Delaying or forgoing education, job training, or career opportunities during the marriage often determines spousal support. If one spouse was the children’s primary caretaker in the marriage, it could be difficult for them to return to the workforce after many years of marriage. As such, judges may be inclined to award maintenance for longer.
- Custody of children in the marriage. A spouse may not be able to work outside the home due to the responsibility of caring for a minor child or one with incapacity. If that is the case, a judge will decide whether spousal maintenance is necessary on top of child support.
- Additional or exceptional expenses for the children. A judge may award more spousal maintenance if the custodial parent has to meet their children’s daycare, medical expenses, and schooling costs.
- Equitable distribution of marital property. New York is an equal distribution state, and divorcing couples are expected to divide marital property equitably. Depending on a spouse’s property, the other may have to pay maintenance to support their financial needs.
- The contributions of one spouse to the earning capacity or career potential of the other. In some marriages, a spouse could make non-financial contributions by assisting their partner in advancing their career. Courts often consider such contributions when deciding spousal maintenance.
- Misuse of marital property by a spouse. Like other forms of spousal misconduct, the court will consider whether a spouse dissipated marital assets or an account. If the account or asset no longer exists due to the frivolous spending of a spouse, then the court may order that spouse to compensate the other by paying them an equitable share. This is particularly the case if such misuse has reduced the marital assets available for distribution.
- Transfer or encumbrance made by either spouse in contemplation of separation or divorce. A court will consider all marital property during divorce, including those deliberately transferred just before or after separation or divorce. If the court establishes that this was done to avoid an equitable distribution, the property will likely be considered part of the marital estate.
- The cost and availability of health insurance. It is not uncommon for married couples in New York to have a family health insurance plan. When such couples separate or divorce, one spouse must get an individual plan and meet the cost alone. Judges may consider such costs when determining maintenance.
- Any other factor the court expressly deems just and proper. Spousal maintenance is determined on a case-to-case basis. Courts can consider any special circumstances in a divorce or separation case to give a fair maintenance award.
– Amount of Alimony
The statutory formula for calculating temporary and post-divorce alimony considers each spouse’s income and obligation to pay child support.
New York State alimony law caps the payor spouse’s income at $184,000 for spousal maintenance purposes. That means any extra income won’t be included in alimony calculations unless there is a valid reason for the judge to increase the award.
Courts in NYS use any of the following calculations in creating a final maintenance award:
- Calculation A: 20% of the payor spouse’s income minus 25% of the supported spouse’s income.
- Calculation B: 30% of the payor spouse’s income minus 20% of the supported spouse’s income.
- Calculation C: 40% of both spouses’ income minus the supported spouse’s income.
The guideline amount is the lesser of calculation A or B and calculation C. If the guideline amount is set to reduce the payor spouse’s income below $16,389 (self-support reserve), the maintenance award will be the payor spouse’s income minus the self-support reserve. Calculation A is used when child support for a minor child is paid. Otherwise, calculation B is used.
Let’s take the following scenario for illustration: The higher-earning spouse earns $80,000 while the lower-earning spouse earns $30,000. Going by calculation A, 20% of $80,000 minus 25% of $30,000 gives $8,500. For calculation B, 30% of $80,000 minus 20% of $30,000 gives $18,000. For calculation C, we take 40% of $110,000 minus $30,000, which is $14,000.
The lower of these is calculation A, which will be the maintenance award by the court. The court will divide the amount by 12 (for monthly spousal maintenance) or 52 (for weekly spousal maintenance).
Remember that judges are not always obligated to use the amount resulting from these calculations. If any factor necessitates a deviation from the guideline amount, then a judge has the power to do so.
Courts utilize the same calculator to create an award for temporary support and post-divorce maintenance. However, judges have full discretion to determine how much spousal maintenance New York should be awarded, depending on the spouses’ circumstances.
– Duration of Alimony
Alimony in New York State may be awarded for a specified or unspecified duration, depending on your case. A judge will likely order duration spousal maintenance if the supported spouse has the potential to become self-supporting after a certain period.
In New York, courts determine the duration of alimony using the following guidelines:
- Spousal maintenance lasts 15%-30% of the marriage duration if the marriage lasts 0-15 years.
- Maintenance lasts 30%-40% of the marriage duration for a marriage that lasts 15-20 years.
- Maintenance lasts 35%-50% of the marriage length for marriages over 20 years.
Non-durational support in NYS is typically permanent. It is mainly awarded if the court establishes that the supported spouse can’t become self-supporting due to incapacity or advanced age.
However, permanent alimony ends when either spouse dies, the supported spouse remarries, or when the recipient spouse cohabits or lives in a marriage-like relationship with another person.
How To Pay Spousal Support in New York State
The most common way of paying alimony in NYS is making periodic payments, typically monthly. If spouses agree to a payment arrangement, such as a monthly direct deposit, the court will likely honor and enforce it.
Where spouses can’t agree on a suitable payment method, a judge will issue an income withholding or execution order to ensure that the supported spouse receives alimony payments.
An income withholding order allows the payor spouse’s employer to deduct alimony payments directly from the employee’s wages and send them to the supported spouse.
In some cases, divorcing parties may agree to a lump-sum alimony payment. In such arrangements, the supporting spouse provides the full amount of alimony on a specified date. However, lump-sum maintenance can also be paid in specific installments on specified dates.
Lump-sum maintenance could be desirable for both parties. Recipient spouses don’t have to wait for a monthly check from their ex-spouse. On the other hand, payor spouses don’t have to worry about an upward adjustment of alimony. Also, they don’t have to make periodic maintenance payments.
While lump-sum alimony payment is an option, it is best suited to those in a financial position to pay a large sum once their divorce is finalized.
How To Avoid Paying Alimony in New York State
The best option for avoiding alimony payments is seeking a modification or termination of an alimony obligation. While termination of alimony could be automatic, that is not the case with modification. Modification and termination can help the payor spouse pay less than what was ordered or nothing at all.
– Modification of Alimony
Alimony laws in NY provide that courts can only modify alimony if there has been a substantial change in circumstances. The spouse who requests an alimony modification has to file a motion asking the court to change the amount of maintenance. Usually, this is a request to reduce the amount of alimony.
In NYS, alimony can be modified if:
- The requesting spouse proves that a substantial and material change in circumstances has occurred since the last alimony order.
- It has been three years since the court entered or modified the last alimony order.
- Either spouse’s income has changed by at least 15%.
– Termination of Alimony
Some events can automatically spell the end of maintenance payments. These include the death of either spouse or the recipient spouse’s remarriage. In some cases, cohabitation of the recipient spouse with another person can end the obligation to pay alimony.
– Is New York State an Alimony State?
Yes. In NYS, spouses must financially support each other. Such obligation continues even in divorce, and a court can give a maintenance or alimony order if one spouse is financially dependent on the other.
Normally, the higher-earning spouse is obligated to pay maintenance to the other spouse until they become self-supporting.
– Is Spousal Support Mandatory in NY?
Alimony in NYS is not mandatory upon separation or divorce despite the spouses’ obligation to support each other. Normally, the court will consider various factors to determine whether the requesting spouse needs financial support from their spouse or ex-spouse.
Usually, courts will order alimony if the lower-earning spouse’s income is less than two-thirds of the higher-earning spouse’s income.
– How Long Do I Have To Be Married To Get Alimony in NY?
No clear-cut rule states how long one has to be married to receive alimony. However, courts are more inclined to award alimony to spouses who can’t support themselves financially after being in a long-term marriage.
It follows that a stay-at-home parent who has been married for 10 years is more likely to receive alimony than a working spouse who has been married for a few years.
– Does It Matter Who Files for Divorce First in New York State?
No. Filing for divorce first doesn’t give you an upper hand or the power to set the rules during the divorce process. New York divorce laws ensure that no party has an advantage over the other during the divorce process.
– Do I Have To Be Separated for a Year To Get a Divorce in New York?
New York recognizes both no-fault and fault-based divorces. As such, couples don’t have to be separated before filing for divorce. Spouses who have been separated for a year can file a no-fault divorce. A no-fault divorce is also an option for spouses who have been in an “irretrievably broken marriage” for six months or more.
In some cases, spouses can file for divorce after coming up with a separation agreement and living separately and apart for at least one year. If you and your spouse haven’t separated, you can still dissolve your marriage by filing a fault-based divorce.
A fault-based divorce requires one spouse to prove that the other spouse is liable for the marriage breakdown. New York State recognizes various grounds for fault-based divorces, including cruelty, abandonment, adultery, and imprisonment.
– Does Infidelity Affect Divorce in New York?
Yes. Infidelity can be used as a ground for divorce by the other spouse. However, you can’t use infidelity as your grounds for divorce if you committed adultery yourself. What’s more, you cannot file for divorce on the grounds of adultery if you continue to live with your spouse even after discovering the infidelity.
For most couples looking to end their marriage through divorce, alimony is one of the many issues that may be discussed. In this article, we have discussed various aspects of alimony in NYS. Let’s wrap up the discussion on alimony in New York state with the key points:
- Courts in NYS consider about 20 factors to determine a spouse’s eligibility for alimony and calculate maintenance.
- NYS courts use a statutory formula to calculate the amount of alimony awarded to the requesting spouse.
- Courts in the state also use statutory guidelines to determine alimony duration in divorce cases.
- Alimony payments in NYS will mostly be periodic, but lump-sum payments can be an option if the payor spouse has the financial ability.
- Alimony is usually terminated upon the death of either spouse, remarriage, or real cohabitation of the recipient spouse. A substantial change in circumstances can also warrant modification of alimony.
- Alimony can be a sticky topic for divorcing couples. However, New York State alimony laws provide the requirements for alimony. Courts will only award alimony if they establish a need for support.
Similarly, the court must determine that the other spouse can pay and that the support obligation won’t leave them in a bad financial position. Most importantly, alimony is reserved for those who can’t financially support themselves during and after the divorce process.
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