How is Alimony Calculated in a New York Divorce?

by Beverly Bird

Marriage is as much about money as it is about love. When two people depend on each other financially, especially over an extended period of years, New York takes the position that neither of them should have to suffer economic hardship because the marriage ends. Alimony – also called spousal support or maintenance in New York – diverts some income from the spouse who earns more to the spouse who earns less. As a result, they can share a comparable lifestyle post-divorce.

Temporary Support

Temporary alimony can be rehabilitative in New York, designed to help the under-earning spouse make ends meet for a period of time while she goes back to school or otherwise acquires training or job skills. The goal is that she will eventually be able to support herself in a style similar to that which she enjoyed while married. Restitutional support compensates a spouse for effort or money she put into helping her partner advance in his career; this type of alimony is also temporary. The court might also order alimony pendente lite – temporary award of alimony during the divorce proceedings – until a more permanent award might be ordered as part of the divorce judgment.

Temporary Support Calculations

In 2010, when the New York legislature passed provisions for no-fault divorce, it also implemented statutory guidelines for calculating pendente lite alimony. The court must order this type of temporary support when one spouse earns less than two-thirds of the other's income. Courts calculate the amount by subtracting 20 percent of the under-earning spouse's income from 30 percent of the higher-earning spouse's income. A judge can also order temporary alimony equaling 40 percent of the spouses' incomes added together, minus the income of the under-earning spouse. When one calculation is less than the other, the court must order the lesser amount.

Other Alimony Factors

New York does not have a mathematical formula for calculating restitutional, rehabilitative or permanent alimony. The amount and duration depend on the discretion of the judge deciding the case, but judges must take certain statutory factors into consideration. The marital lifestyle is one of the most important factors because judges try to achieve a balance of income post-divorce. The duration of the marriage is also important. Other considerations include the ages and health of both spouses and their earning potential after the divorce.

Modifications

Even permanent alimony is not necessarily forever in New York. The courts will hear motions to modify or terminate alimony under certain circumstances. In some cases, divorce judgments already include language that alimony ends if the receiving spouse remarries. Even if a judgment doesn't mention this, however, the paying spouse can go back to court if this occurs and ask the judge to terminate his alimony obligation. The amount of support or maintenance can also be modified due to income changes experienced by either spouse.