Known as “maintenance” in New York, alimony is the financial support that one spouse may be required to pay to another spouse in the event of a divorce. It consists of monetary payments made at fixed intervals, such as weekly or monthly, for a specific period of time as designated by the court. Since it is intended to provide support to a spouse, maintenance is usually paid by the spouse who was the breadwinner in the arrangement to the spouse who earned less money and, thus, is in need of financial support.

How Do I Qualify for Alimony?

Whether you can receive maintenance in New York greatly depends on your financial status and need for financial support. This is extremely true if you are seeking temporary alimony, which is intended to just provide support while you are going through the divorce process. You may also qualify for maintenance if you and your spouse have already agreed that you should receive maintenance. However, such an agreement must be in writing in order to be enforceable.

How Much Alimony Can I Receive?

The amount of maintenance that you may receive will primarily depend on how much your spouse earns and whether you will also be receiving child support from your spouse. New York currently has an income cap of $175,000 of the paying spouse’s annual income, and this cap will increase in 2018. If the paying spouse’s income is either equal to or falls below the income cap, the court will calculate an amount by following a specific formula that involves looking at both the paying spouse’s and the receiving spouse’s incomes. There are three possible formulas that may be used to calculate the amount of maintenance to which a receiving spouse may be entitled, and which formula will be used depends on whether the paying spouse will also be paying child support to the receiving spouse and whether the amount calculated by the initial formula would result in the paying spouse’s income falling below a predetermined threshold set for self-support.

While the court is still required to follow the applicable formula to determine the base amount of maintenance regardless, it may also award an additional amount of maintenance if the paying spouse’s income is above the aforementioned income cap. In order to determine just how much maintenance beyond the base amount should be granted, the court will consider a number of factors, including:

  • Each spouse’s health and age
  • The receiving spouse’s need for further education or training
  • Each spouse’s present and future earning capacity
  • Any actions by one spouse against the other, such as domestic violence, that have prevented or are currently preventing the latter spouse from earning an income or otherwise obtaining meaningful employment
  • The receiving spouse’s reduced or lost earning capacity caused by delaying or forgoing training, education, or opportunities to further their career throughout their marriage
  • The standard of living experienced by the spouses during the marriage

There is one situation, however, where the amount of maintenance is not based on the paying spouse’s income. If the paying spouse fails to provide the court with adequate evidence of their total current income, then the court can base the amount of maintenance on the receiving spouse’s financial needs or their standard of living prior to the divorce, whichever is higher.

How Long Does Alimony Last?

When the court determines how much maintenance should be paid, it will also determine how long the maintenance will last. If the maintenance is temporary, then it will likely end when the court issues the final divorce decree or in the event that one of the spouses dies before the divorce is finalized. Otherwise, how long the maintenance lasts generally depends on how long the marriage lasted. New York state law provides guidelines for the length of maintenance through a set percentage range based on the length of a marriage:

  • 15% to 30% of the length of the marriage for marriages up to 15 years
  • 30% to 40% of the length of the marriage for marriages between 15 years and 20 years
  • 35% to 59% of the length of the marriage for marriages more than 20 years

The court does not need to follow these guidelines when determining the duration of the maintenance. If the court chooses to not follow the duration guidelines, then it will need to consider the same factors it needs to consider for providing a larger amount of maintenance than the base amount. Also, maintenance may end before the original termination date set by the court if:

  • Either spouse dies
  • The receiving spouse remarries
  • The court, after receiving a motion to modify the maintenance order, determines that the best course of action is to terminate maintenance early

How Can I Petition for Alimony?

In order to petition for maintenance, even temporary maintenance, you will need to start the divorce process. This means that you will need to file a Summons with Notice or a Summons with a Verified Complaint. Regardless of which set of documents you choose to file, you will need to include a request for maintenance in the Ancillary or Other Relief section of the documents. Once you have filed the initial divorce documents, you will need to serve them to your spouse along with a Notice of Guideline Maintenance.  After you have served the filed paperwork to your spouse, you will need to complete an Annual Income Worksheet and a Maintenance Guidelines Worksheet to show the court what your current financial state is and why you need maintenance. These worksheets will also help the court to calculate just how much maintenance you will need. Making a mistake on any of this paperwork may result in you not receiving any alimony, which is why it may be in your best interest to hire a lawyer to help you with filling out the paperwork because they can help you avoid making any mistakes when filling out the paperwork and petitioning for maintenance.

Where Can I Find the Right Lawyer?

Getting maintenance can be critical in whether you can continue to live as you have been living or if you will be struggling to live paycheck to paycheck. Thus, it is important that you do not make any mistakes when petitioning for maintenance. Contact a New York divorce lawyer to help you petition for maintenance and help you avoid mistakes.