New York courts award spousal maintenance on a routine basis for spouses who are unable to support themselves financially after a divorce. If one spouse suffers from a significant medical condition such as multiple sclerosis, the court is permitted by statute to award lifetime support. Temporary support, known as "pendente lite" maintenance, is also available to help the financially dependent spouse during the divorce proceedings. Spouses who experience a decline in health after the divorce and need additional support can petition the Family Court for a modification.
Types of Spousal Maintenance
New York law recognizes two general types of spousal maintenance. The first, known as durational maintenance, is set by the judge for a fixed amount of time. The other, known as non-durational maintenance, is a lifetime award of support. Spousal maintenance is intended to be rehabilitative whenever possible, and the court does not consider gender as a factor when deciding an appropriate support amount. Spouses in need of maintenance must formally request it prior to the actual court hearing in order for the judge to have time to consider an appropriate amount. Failure to request maintenance prior to the hearing likely will result in the court's refusal to consider the matter.
Spouses with a condition like multiple sclerosis may need to petition for temporary spousal maintenance. Temporary maintenance is financial support paid by one spouse to the other while divorce proceedings are pending so the spouse can maintain the quality of her life and keep up with medical expenses. The amount of temporary maintenance is determined by an equation involving each spouse's income, and outside financial factors are generally not considered. However, the court may deviate from the formula if the result would be unfair or inappropriate. When one spouse has a severe medical condition, the judge may use this factor to determine a higher amount than that recommended by the equation.
New York courts generally disfavor lifetime spousal maintenance, but will consider a number of factors before making the decision. Some of the factors used when deciding a maintenance amount include the age and health of the parties, lifetime earning potential and ability to work. A spouse with a condition like multiple sclerosis may be a strong candidate for lifetime support, unless she can support herself.
Final Order and Modifications
New York judges award spousal maintenance during a divorce proceeding, and spouses cannot petition for maintenance after the divorce is finalized. However, after maintenance is awarded, either spouse may petition for a modification if either experiences a significant change in financial circumstances. Qualifying changes could include a spouse who was once self-supporting and is now unable to work. Other changes include the remarriage of the recipient spouse or financial hardship of the payor spouse.