Can a New York Judge Order Spousal Support for Less Time than the Guidelines Call For?

When a judge presides over a New York divorce, one of the parties will often request to receive post-divorce maintenance payments, formerly called alimony, from the other party. Up until 2015, the determination of the amount and duration of post-divorce maintenance was largely left up to the discretion of the judge overseeing the case. However, in 2015, the New York Legislature enacted sweeping reforms of the New York Domestic Relations Act, particularly in regard to how post-divorce maintenance is awarded.

Hoping to standardize the manner in which judges were calculating and awarding post-divorce maintenance, the legislature stepped away from a standard that was almost completely relied on judicial discretion, and implemented a more formula-based system. Previous posts have discussed how judges arrive at the amount of spousal maintenance, but we have not recently looked at the durational aspect of post-divorce maintenance.

Under Domestic Relations Law section 236(b), the court still retains some discretion in determining how long a party is entitled to post-divorce maintenance payments. However, the formula for calculating the timeline provides a range of time, as a percentage, based on the length of the marriage as the presumptive time period for maintenance to last. For example, post-divorce maintenance payments in marriages lasting less than 15 years should last between 15% to 30% of the marriage’s length. For marriages lasting between 15 and 20 years, the post-divorce maintenance payments should last between 30% to 40% of the overall length of the marriage. Finally, for marriages that were over 20 years in length, the post-divorce maintenance payments should last for 35% to 50% of the length of the marriage.

For example, if a couple was married for 17 years, the guideline range for the duration of post-divorce maintenance would be between 5.1 (17 years multiplied by .3) and 6.8 years (17 years multiplied by .4).

A judge can, however, order post-divorce payments to last for a shorter duration than called for in the guidelines. In so doing, the judge may rely on the list of factors provided in sub-section (e)(1). These factors are the same as those used when a judge calculates the amount of post-maintenance support, and they include the age and health of the parties, the earning capacity of the parties, future sources of income, the parties’ needs to care for young or elderly family members, etc. If a judge departs from the guidelines, she must set forth in writing the specific reasons for doing so.

For example, in one recent case involving a marriage that lasted 26 years, the court ordered post-spousal maintenance payments to last just 10 months. The court based its decision on the fact that the husband, who made significantly more than the wife, was about to retire very soon after the divorce was final. The court also held, however, that if the husband did not retire or continued to make over $100,000 while retired, the wife was entitled to $20,000 in maintenance payments for that year. Had the court used the guideline calculations, the range would have been between 9.1 and 13 years.

Are You Going Through a New York Divorce?

If you are currently going through a difficult New York divorce, or are considering filing for divorce, contact the Law and Mediation Offices of Darren M. Shapiro. Attorney Shapiro has extensive experience representing clients in all kinds of New York family law issues, including in divorce proceedings. He recognizes the difficult situation his clients are in, and does everything he can to make the process as seamless as possible. To learn more about how Attorney Shapiro can help you through your divorce, call 516-333-6555 to schedule a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Determining Spousal Maintenance in New York Divorces Cases Involving High-Income Earners, Long Island Family Law and Mediation Blog, June 29, 2018

Grandparent Visitation in New York: Do a Child’s Expressed Desires Weigh into the Court’s Decision?, Long Island Family Law and Mediation Blog, June 12, 2018


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