When Is It Appropriate for a Judge to Order Spousal Maintenance for Longer than Suggested by the Guidelines?

Legal News GavelAs 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.

In that case, Husband’s annual income was roughly $415,000. After the couple had their first child in 1996, Wife stopped working. By the time of divorce in 2009, the couple had been married for about 15 years. Wife had a bachelor’s degree and was in good health at the time of the divorce, but made no money. The court determined that, taking the income disparity into account as well as Wife’s ability to work, spousal maintenance from Husband to Wife in the amount of $96,000 per year for 5 years was reasonable.

Despite the durational period being at the very high end of the guidelines, the court upheld the maintenance award on appeal. The court explained that the award was properly designed to “encourage rehabilitation and self-sufficiency to the extent possible, while still accounting for a large discrepancy in earning power between the parties.”

The court’s mention of rehabilitation and self-sufficiency is a common theme.  In many cases, attorneys can argue for or against an award of post-divorce maintenance payments for just long enough for the receiving spouse to obtain additional education or job training so that they can support themselves and their children.

Are You Considering a New York Divorce?

If you are currently involved in a New York divorce, or are considering filing for divorce in the future, contact the Law and Mediation Offices of Darren M. Shapiro. Attorney Shapiro has decades of experience representing clients in a wide variety of New York family court matters, including New York divorce cases. Attorney Shapiro takes special care to make sure that his clients are kept up to date with the status of their case, and takes the time to listen to the issues that are important to each client. To learn more, call 516-333-6555 to schedule your free consultation today.

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

Can a New York Judge Order Spousal Support for Less Time than the Guidelines Call For?, Long Island Family Law and Mediation Blog, July 21, 2018