Divorce Litigation Bullet Points Part 7: Spousal Maintenance, High Income and Economic Partnerships

Coupledisputebacktoback-300x205A while ago, I started a blog series to introduce residents of New York to some of the realities of divorce litigation in the current time. After a break where we turned our attention to some of the family law issues during the coronavirus pandemic, we’re continuing these bullet point guides, summarizing my articles throughout the years, to continue offering an easy insight into the world of divorce and family law.

In this particular guide, we will be discussing the concepts of spousal maintenance in New York divorce cases concerning high-income earners. We’ll also discuss the contributions that individuals can make to a marriage, and how the court and judge consider them. Finally, we’ll be asking how the courts can look at marriages as economic partnerships.

High-Income Earners and Spousal Maintenance

In a New York divorce, a judge presiding over a case may ask for one or more parties to provide spousal maintenance to the other party. These payments, known as alimony or maintenance, are calculated according to specific formulas outlined by New York Domestic Relations law.

  • A judge may order spousal maintenance for a specific period, or in rare circumstances, for the lifetime of the spouse receiving the money. There are guidelines for the amount of maintenance to be paid and the duration. New York law currently has an income cap when deciding on the right amount of spousal maintenance. This income cap, however, may be pierced under certain circumstances, particularly in high income divorces.
  • If a party in a New York divorce earns above the income cap outlined by the current law, the judge applies a formula in Section 236(b)(6). This determines how much maintenance should be paid, up to the cap. A judge may also order additional spousal maintenance according to their discretion upon the consideration of enumerated factors in the statute.
  • The statute for New York divorce law also discusses factors judges need to consider when ordering spousal maintenance, such as the health and age of both parties, the current and future earning abilities of the parties, and more.
  • Judges may also consider factors like the home-making contributions of the receiving spouse, the standard of living that both parties grew accustomed to, and the availability of medical insurance, as well as its cost.

Spousal Contributions and Efforts in Equitable Distribution

New York is a state that divides up assets, in a divorce or matrimonial case according to equitable distribution. This means that the court considers a number of factors when splitting property, to determine what is fair, and just. Only marital property will be subject to equitable distribution, and anything that is “separate” property, remains with the spouse that is entitled to that property.

  • The New York Domestic Relations law states that separate property includes any property acquired before the marriage, that was kept separate, and the property gifted to or inherited by a spouse alone, that was also kept separate.
  • The courts consider a number of factors when determining how assets should be distributed between both parties. They consider things like the length of the marriage, the earning potential of both spouses, and the quality of life they’ve grown accustomed to.
  • Sometimes, the courts will also consider the effort and contributions made by the other spouse in a marriage, even if these contributions do not have a monetary value. Looking after a home, caring for a spouse, and caring for children or elderly relatives are all valuable considerations for the court when making equitable contribution decisions.
  • The courts of New York believe that marriage is an economic partnership that depends on both the financial contributions of both partners, but also various non-financial efforts too, such as raising children, providing emotional support, and home making.

Marriage as an Economic Partnership

Often, when people get married, they consider their spouse’s financial situation. Although there’s more to marriage than money, it would be foolish not to consider the monetary status of your other half. Married couples are defined as economic partners by the law. The courts take this into account when dividing assets in a divorce proceeding.

  • Courts distribute assets according to a full understanding of the economic partnership involved in a marriage. Section 236 of Article 13 of New York Domestic relations law outlines the criteria that the courts use to understand this partnership.
  • The things a judge considers when distributing assets can include the age, education, and income of the parties. The court also thinks about the sacrifices that one spouse might have made for the other to benefit the couple. For instance, if a spouse gave up their job to look after children while the other worked, this would be a consideration.
  • The courts have the freedom to consider anything they believe to be just and proper when making equitable distribution decisions. If the court determines that a couple had an economic partnership in a marriage, it’s more likely that they will divide assets according to Section 236 guidelines. On the other hand, if a couple separates and remains married, the courts might decide that there was no partnership and it could be a consideration in equitable distribution.

If you’re keen to learn more about the issues addressed in the guide above, read through some of our other blogs here for extra information. You can also reach out to schedule a free initial consultation with me, Mr. Darren M. Shapiro, using our phone number, 516-333-6555, or the available contact form. Up to the first half hour of the free initial consultation is without charge.

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