Big changes made to New York’s spousal maintenance law

Here's how the law might affect your divorce

While every divorce is unique, there are a few questions that seem to come up in almost every case. One of these is whether one spouse will be required to provide the other with spousal maintenance (otherwise known as "alimony").

Earlier this year, New York lawmakers made some substantial changes to the way spousal support is awarded. If you're facing divorce, here is what you need to know.

How is spousal maintenance calculated?

Generally speaking, spousal maintenance is awarded when one spouse's income is substantially greater than the other's. The new law establishes a mathematical formula to help guide a judge's decision about how much support will be awarded. Essentially, the formula compares both spouses' incomes and creates a guideline for the judge to follow.

The formula differs depending on whether the person paying alimony will also be paying child support. In addition, the law caps the amount of income that will be taken into consideration. That limit is now $175,000, compared to $500,000 before the changes were implemented.

It is important to note that, at the end of the day, the goal is fairness. Judges can depart from the formula's guidelines and/or consider income in excess of the $175,000 when not doing so would be unjust or inappropriate.

How long does spousal maintenance last?

There are two types of spousal maintenance: temporary spousal support and post-divorce spousal support. Temporary spousal support is meant to be a hold-over until the divorce is finalized. It helps the lower-income spouse keep up with expenses until the couple's property has been divided and there has been a decision made about ongoing support.

If post-divorce support is awarded, its duration depends largely on the length of the marriage. Post-divorce support can last anywhere from 15 to 50 percent as long as the marriage from which it arises.

What about professional licenses?

Professional licenses and other things that result in "enhanced earning capacity" - like celebrity status, advanced degrees and other career enhancements - used to be factored in to the maintenance decision. Often, this resulted in spouses in certain professions paying more support than they otherwise would. This changed under the new law, and these things are no longer factored into spousal maintenance, though they may still be considered in the property division portion of the divorce.

Talk to a lawyer to learn how the new law might affect you

Every spousal maintenance decision is different and depends on the unique circumstances at play in that particular divorce. If you're facing the end of your marriage, an experienced New York divorce lawyer can help you understand the new law and work toward a favorable outcome.