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Divorce Litigation Guide Bullets Part 6: Spousal Maintenance Guidelines

Spousal Maintenance Guidelines As a divorce attorney, Mr. Darren Shapiro has helped countless couples to move through the stress and heartache of divorce as painlessly as possible. For some clients, it’s possible to address issues like equitable distribution and spousal maintenance without getting the courts initially involved. This could mean that the parties discuss their options through mediation.

In other situations, the only option for a couple will be litigation. During this litigation, the couple may need to discuss things like spousal maintenance aka alimony in front of a judge. To help his clients better understand how spousal maintenance works in the landscape of divorce litigation, Mr. Shapiro put together a quick guide of essential points.

Here are some of the things you may need to know about the New York Courts and how they make determinations regarding spousal maintenance orders.

Ordering Maintenance for a Specific Period

When the courts order spousal maintenance in a divorce case, they need to determine various things, including how much maintenance the payor needs to pay, and how long a payee should continue to get the appropriate support. Divorce attorneys like Mr. Shapiro share the following insights:

  • Courts in New York address several essential factors when making decisions regarding spousal maintenance. These factors come from Domestic Relations Law Section 236B and break the duration of the marriage into categories to determine how long someone should have access to maintenance. A marriage lasting from 0 to 15 years the guideline duration of time is in between 15% to 30% of the length of the marriage. A marriage from 15 to 20 years has a guideline duration of 30% to 40% of the length of the marriage. Marriages longer than 20 years have a guideline duration for maintenance of 35% to 50% of the length of the marriage.
  • The Domestic Relations law permits for situations where presiding judges may feel the guidelines cannot account for the situation in question and deviations are possible. In this case, the judge will order maintenance post-divorce for a duration other than recommended by the formula.
  • Judges that deviate from the guidelines are required to give their reasoning in writing. Maintenance payments might be lower, higher, shorter, or longer than suggested by the policies, in a relevant use of discretion, among other factors due to an income disparity between wife and husband. Courts may also consider the less-monied spouse’s ability to work, among other factors.
  • Courts may explain that the award is designed to encourage rehabilitation and self-sufficiency where possible while accounting for differences between earning power for both parties. In most cases, attorneys like Mr. Shapiro can use divorce litigation to argue against or for awards of post-maintenance payments that meet their client’s needs.
Stepping Away from Maintenance Guidelines

When judges preside over litigation cases for a New York divorce, they have powers to help them make decisions about spousal maintenance. For instance, the duration and amount of the post-divorce maintenance determination was left to the discretion of the judge until 2010 when the first New York maintenance guidelines were enacted and as amended in 2015. However, the legislature enacted has changed significantly since then.

  • New York legislation has now stepped away from reliance on judicial discretion, with a formula-based system that concentrates on factors like the length of the marriage. The 236 (B) section of Domestic Relations law does still provide the court with some discretion to determine how long a party should receive post-divorce maintenance. However, the formula, as Mr. Shapiro notes, provides a range of time as a percentage.
  • Judges can order payments to last for less time than suggested in the guidelines. This might happen when the earning capacity, health, or age of the participants in the case are significant factors.
  • Judges may also choose to step away from the guidelines for how much a person should pay in terms of spousal maintenance. Judges may deviate from the recommended formula for maintenance when a spouse has an income less than 135% of the poverty line aka as the self-support reserve. Judges can also sidestep the suggested amount and award more or less money when a suggested award would be “unjust” or inappropriate.
  • In cases, the court might find that asking a spouse to pay a certain level in permanent or temporary maintenance would have a massively negative impact on the financial standing of the payor or payee. The court said that this would cause a massive shift in resources, which would not be fair or just.
  • Typically, spousal maintenance is available in two different forms in a divorce case, the first is pendente lite, which is the amount paid to a payee spouse during the litigation process. This award only lasts for as long as the divorce case is pending. The idea is that both spouses will be able to afford the expenses required for legal proceedings. The other form of support is post-divorce maintenance, which can be offered for a specific term, or in some rare cases – until death.
Handling Spousal Maintenance in Divorce Litigation

Ultimately, spousal maintenance is just one example of the complicated issues that spouses need to think about during a divorce litigation process. Attorneys like Mr. Shapiro can assist clients in discovering the best possible strategy for them when it comes to presenting their case to the courts. He can also offer information on how the courts calculate things like spousal maintenance. However, it’s important to note that judges may always deviate from the guidelines that are provided for New York cases.

If you feel as though you need to discuss your own spousal maintenance case, or you have other questions about divorce litigation, please read through the content on this website, or reach out to Mr. Darren Shapiro’s office today to schedule a time. You can arrange your initial consultation, up to the first 30 minutes is free, either using the online contact form or by calling at (516) 333-6555.

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