As we have discussed in previous posts, when a New York court is tasked with determining the amount and duration of spousal maintenance payments following a New York divorce, the court will start with the formula contained in Domestic Relations Law section 236(b). For determining the duration of spousal maintenance payments, the statute breaks marriages down into three categories and assigns each a percentage range:
- Marriages less than 15 years in length: 15-30% of the length of the marriage
- Marriages between 15 and 20 years in length: 30-40% of the length of the marriage
- Marriages over 20 years in length: 35-50% of the length of the marriage
Domestic Relations Law Section 236(b) makes room, however, for the situation where the presiding judge believes that the guidelines do not adequately account for the party’s situation. In this case, the judge can order post-divorce maintenance for a duration that is shorter (or longer) than recommended by the formula. However, if a judge decides to depart from the guidelines, she must detail her reasoning in writing.
The spousal maintenance duration formula was made law back in 2015, and there have been relatively few cases testing a judge’s limits to depart significantly above the guidelines. However, the cases that have been issued are instructive. For example, a late-2016 case presented a situation where the party seeking maintenance payments was able to obtain them for the upper range of the guidelines.