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How is Spousal Maintenance or Alimony Calculated in NY?

Posted by Sunshine, Isaacson & Hecht LLP on September 17th, 2020

Not too long ago, alimony (now known as spousal maintenance or spousal support) was entirely discretionary.  This caused a lot of litigation as there was no real expectation as to how much the Court might award.  If one attorney told the client to expect to receive $2,500.00 per month, while the other attorney told the opposing client to expect to pay $500.00 per month, both parties would end up spending thousands of dollars litigating the issue, each thinking that he or she was “right” and that the other was unreasonable.

Today, it’s different.  Now, New York has a formula for the presumptively correct amount of spousal maintenance or alimony, which takes a lot of the guess-work out of equation.

When maintenance is awarded, the support is rarely permanent, as the expectation is that the receiving spouse will find a job or receive the education and training they require to become financially self-sufficient. The spouse requesting it will have to demonstrate a need for short or long-term financial assistance and a financial disparity between the parties.

Typically, New York judges use the following formula to calculate maintenance:

  • Subtract 20% of the requesting spouse’s income from 30% of the other spouse’s income
  • Multiply the combined spouse’s total income by 40% and subtract the the requesting spouse’s income 

The lesser amount of these two calculations will be used to determine the support award on an annual basis. The Court might “deviate” and make the award larger or smaller based on the circumstances, but the calculation at least gives everyone an approximate idea of what the number should be.  Additional factors that impact the amount awarded include:

  • Whether there is also a child support award. 
  • If the Payor’s income exceeds $192,000, in which case the court may award additional alimony, and base the amount on other factors that include the age and health of each spouse, their respective present and future earning capacities, and the need of one spouse (usually the recipient) to incur education or training expenses.

The Court will also calculate the duration (or length of time) of the award pursuant to a formula.  The duration calculation is based on brackets of time and approximate number of years.  For marriages between 15 years and 20 years, the duration of maintenance may be between 30% and 40% of the total time you were married. For longer term marriages, the duration of maintenance may be between 35% and 50% of the total time you were married.  For example, if you were married for 30 years, the duration of maintenance could be anywhere from 10+ years to 15 years.  

Except in rare instances, spousal support is only paid for a fixed amount of time specified in the court order. The expectation is that at some point in the future, the receiving spouse will become financially independent. If permanent alimony is awarded, it typically ends when one of the spouses passes away or the recipient remarries.

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Proving the need for alimony involves some complex calculations as well as consideration of the recipient spouse’s lifestyle, age, health, and need to care for minor children. At Sunshine, Isaacson & Hecht, we understand how worrying it can be to think about your post-divorce financial outlook, especially if you left the workforce to care for your family, and will fight for an award that ensures stability while you prepare to become financially independent. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call (516) 352-2100.

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