Maintenance for Shorter Than the Guideline Duration

Can a Judge Go Below the Guidelines for Duration of Spousal Support?

Man with Dollar SignThere are many questions that people find themselves struggling to answer when they're facing the divorce process. Will it be better to strive for litigation or mediation? What will happen with the children? How will spousal support be awarded, and who will have to pay for it? Sometimes, the best way to answer these questions, is with the support of the right divorce lawyer. Professionals like Darren Shapiro can help to provide some insights into the regulations surrounding divorce law, so you can proceed with your case feeling as informed and confident as possible.

Let's take the concept of spousal maintenance or spousal support for example. In cases of a New York divorce which enter litigation, one party will often request to receive post-divorce maintenance payments from the other. The reason we are mentioning litigation is in mediated cases the parties eventually make agreements that become the court order. In divorce cases, this maintenance is what people commonly call "alimony". Up until 2015, the determination of how much support should be given, and how long those support payments should last was generally left for the Judge to decide. However, in 2015, new legislation was signed into New York law, leading to reforms in the New York Domestic Relations Law. One of the biggest changes affected how post-divorce maintenance should be awarded.

The new legislation was created in an effort to standardize the methods that judges use to calculate and award post-divorce maintenance. This means that the rules around spousal support no longer rely heavily on the discretion of the judge. As Attorney Shapiro reminds his clients during discussions to help them prepare for their cases, it's helpful to be aware of the factors that can affect a spousal support order before you interact with the courts. This means understanding not just how spousal support is given, but also the factors that dictate how long it should be given for.

The Timelines of Spousal Support

According to the rules outlined by Domestic Relations Law section 236B, the court retains significant discretion of how long any individual in the divorce process should be entitled to payments for spousal maintenance. However, there is a formula in place that's designed to simplify the process of calculating how long support should be given. For instance, the formula available for calculating a spousal support timeline looks at how long the marriage lasted as a guideline to how long maintenance should last. For instance, if a marriage lasted fewer than 15 years, the payments presumptively (but not necessarily) last for between 15% and 30% of the length of the marriage. Alternatively, for marriages that last over twenty years, the length of payments presumptively can be from 35% and up to 50% of the length of the marriage. Fifteen to twenty year marriages have a presumptive range of 30% to 40% of the length of the marriage.

Often, Attorney Shapiro will help his clients to calculate their potential spousal payment duration in advance using the formula given by Domestic Relations Law. For instance, if a couple was married for a period of 17 years, then the guideline range for the post-divorce maintenance length would be between 5.1 and 6.8 years.

The important thing to remember is that judge discretion still plays a big part in the decisions made about spousal support. For instance, a New York judge will have the right to step in and order post-divorce payments that last for less time than the guidelines would allow. For instance, the judge may use the list of factors outlined in sub-section (e)(1) to make decisions such as these. The factors in sub-section (e)(1) are the same as the ones that the judge will use to calculate the amount of post-maintenance support that should be provided to either spouse, and they include things like the earning capacity of the people involved, their health and age, and the future sources of income that they have access too. The judge may also consider a spouse's need to care for elderly or young family members, and the judge will outline the reasons they have for departing from the guidelines for spousal support.

Getting Guidance for Spousal Support Cases

Attorney Shapiro can help to simplify the process of understanding spousal support for his clients, by discussing cases that have addressed the issue in the past. For instance, in one case that involved a marriage lasting 26 years, the courts only ordered for the payments of spousal maintenance to last for 10 months. The courts outlined the fact that the husband, who made a lot more than the wife, would be retiring from his job soon after the divorce was made final. However, the court also held that if the husband didn't retire, or he continued to make more than $100,000 when he was retired, the wife would be entitled to maintenance payments of up to $20,000 for that year. However, if the courts had used the guidelines given by Domestic Relations law, the spousal support payments could have lasted between 9.1 and 13 years.

Ultimately, the best way you can make sure that you understand the nature of spousal support payments and how they affect you, is to seek out the help of a professional. If you're in the midst of a New York divorce, or you're currently considering starting your divorce procedure, reach out to the Law and Mediation office of Darren M. Shapiro at your earliest convenience. Mr. Shapiro has extensive experience dealing with all aspects of family law, including divorce proceedings. To learn more about how Attorney Shapiro can assist you with your divorce, call today on 516-333-6555 to schedule your initial consultation of up to a half-hour free.

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