Factors Influencing Spousal Maintenance Decisions

By Michael DiFalco

New York divorces do not automatically include spousal maintenance, also called alimony. Instead, the spouse seeking maintenance must show several factors to establish the right to spousal support and the amount they deserve.

Factors Considered When Awarding Spousal Maintenance

The purpose of spousal maintenance is to ensure both parties have financial security after the divorce. Judges do not award alimony to punish one ex-spouse or reward the other. Instead, the court decides whether to award alimony strictly on financial and equitable grounds. 

In other words, the requesting party must show a financial need for maintenance and that the court can award an amount fair to both parties.

Thus, the court will look at three factors when deciding on a spousal maintenance award:

  • What are the past, current, and future incomes of the parties
  • Is the disparity between the parties’ incomes wide enough to require maintenance
  • What was the standard of living for the couple during the marriage?
  • Will the requestor have property or income to meet their reasonable needs?
  • Does the payor have property or income to meet the requestor’s reasonable needs?

The court can apply the statutory formulas and guidelines while considering these and several other factors. If the requestor cannot meet their needs according to the established standard of living, or requires time to get back into the workforce or earn a higher income, and the payor has the income and resources to help, the court will likely award maintenance.

Factors Considered When Determining the Amount

After the court decides to award alimony, it must decide the amount and duration of the payments. The amount is primarily a financial consideration. The state uses worksheets to calculate a guideline amount.

The formulas from the worksheets might not make much sense, but the idea is that an amount is shifted from the higher-income spouse to the lower-income spouse to raise the lower-income spouse’s income.

Thus, if the couple earned $200,000 in combined income but most of the income came from only one spouse, for example $165,000 versus $35,000, the less monied spouse could seek maintenance. 

The worksheets would use a series of complicated calculations to try to get the requesting spouse to about $60,000 when combining salary and maintenance (in addition to child support which is not attributed as income shifting to a party) Thus, a salary of $35,000 would result in a maintenance award of approximately $24,000 per year. 

Factors Considered When Determining the Duration

The court will look at numerous factors to determine the duration of maintenance, any adjustments to maintenance, or maintenance for high-income couples where the worksheets do not work. These factors include the following:

  1. The age and health of each spouse
  2. Each spouse’s earning history and future earning capacity
  3. Whether a spouse needs education or training to be employed
  4. When any child support award will terminate
  5. Whether a spouse wasted marital property
  6. Whether the couple lived together before marriage and separated before divorce
  7. Acts by one spouse to prevent the other spouse from working
  8. The cost of health insurance for the spouses
  9. Whether either spouse cared for children or relatives instead of working
  10. The tax consequences of a maintenance award
  11. The standard of living established during marriage
  12. Whether a spouse delayed a career to advance the other’s education or career
  13. The property distribution
  14. The contribution to the marriage as a homemaker
  15. Any other just and proper factor

When determining the duration, the court will use these factors to decide whether to end the maintenance upon the following events:

  • Death of either party
  • Remarriage of the receiving party
  • Specified date

For example, suppose one spouse delayed their education while putting the other through college. The court might give the requesting spouse six years of maintenance so they have time to pursue a college degree.

Requesting Spousal Maintenance in Your Divorce

If you request spousal maintenance, you must supply the court with reasons to grant it. A lawyer can assemble evidence and present your arguments for spousal support. To discuss your alimony case, contact Aiello & DiFalco, a family law firm in Garden City, NY.

About the Author
I am a partner at Aiello & DiFalco LLP, and my priority for my clients is to guide them through an arduous court case to provide them with the opportunity to write the next chapter in their life. I tailor my approach to each client’s priorities and positions, and to the extent that matters can be predicted, I will always provide a realistic perspective of how the law could be applied to the particular facts and circumstances of a case. Since I thrive on helping people and solving problems, I bring an optimistic and positive approach to practicing in a very difficult area of law. With more than a decade of experience handling hundreds of cases, I have the ability to get results on the issues my clients view as priorities. When cases or certain issues cannot be settled, I have a solid record of success at trials, hearings, and on appeals. Feel free to contact me for a free initial consultation, I am always available to help.