Divorce Alimony Laws Defined by New York State

by Elizabeth Rayne
Spousal maintenance may help a spouse transition to single life.

Spousal maintenance may help a spouse transition to single life.

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Spousal maintenance is not automatically granted in New York, especially when both spouses are working and earn their own incomes. The courts refer to alimony as spousal maintenance and may award it on a temporary or permanent basis. If the circumstances of either spouse change, the court may modify or completely terminate a spouse's right to alimony.

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Temporary Support

While a divorce is pending, either spouse may request temporary support to last until the final divorce decree is in place. Up until 2010, New York courts had discretion to award such pendente lite maintenance. After 2010, the term for pendente lite maintenance was changed to "temporary" maintenance and the court now uses a detailed formula to calculate the amount of support. A spouse may receive temporary support if she earns less income than the other spouse, particularly if her income is less than two-thirds of her spouse's income. The court will apply the statutory formula to compare the income of each spouse, but may deviate from the final calculation based on the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, income potential of either spouse, tax consequences and any other factors that will provide a just and equitable amount of temporary support.

Post-Divorce Maintenance

After the divorce is final, the court may order spousal maintenance to continue. Instead of using a specific formula, New York courts will award maintenance if "justice requires" the court to do so. Judges will consider whether the lower-income spouse has enough resources to reasonably support herself; whether the other spouse can continue to reasonably support himself if he is required to pay support; and the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. To determine the amount and duration of maintenance, the court may consider the length of the marriage, the age of the parties and other factors that demonstrate the income or potential income of either spouse. The court may order maintenance to be paid in one lump sum or smaller payments made over a period of time.

Modification of Maintenance

New York law allows either spouse to ask for modification of the amount of spousal maintenance if their financial circumstances have substantially changed since the time of the original support order. For example, if the spouse receiving maintenance gets a large increase in salary or the spouse paying maintenance loses his job or becomes ill and cannot work, either spouse may request a modification.

Termination of Maintenance

Either spouse may petition the court to stop spousal maintenance payments due to a change of financial circumstances, but certain events will automatically cause a termination in the obligation to pay. For example, spousal maintenance may automatically end at a time specified in the original support order. Also, in New York, all spousal maintenance obligations end when the receiving spouse remarries or either spouse dies.