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How Long Should I Be Married to Receive Alimony In New York?

There is no timeframe on that. The statute is phrased that the longer you are married, the longer the presumptive duration of maintenance that you may be entitled to claim. The statute sets up a presumptive formula and they look at short, medium, and long-term marriages. A short-term marriage is defined in the statute as zero to 15 years, medium is 15 to 20, and long-term marriage is anything more than 20.

Why the legislature decided that way does not make any practical sense to me. It really should have been zero to 10, 10 to 20, and then 20 or more. Nevertheless, the statute is as it is. In short term marriages the presumptive duration of maintenance is 15 to 30 percent of the length the of the marriage, for medium term divorces it is 30 to 40 percent, and long-term marriages it’s 35 to 50 percent.

And while the presumptive duration still applies in an extremely short-term marriage (e.g., for just six to 12 months), it may not make sense as a practical matter to go for maintenance because the marriage was so short. But, that doesn’t mean in an extremely short term marriage one cannot get maintenance – especially if the monied spouse is making into the millions of dollars or high six figures. Let’s say the non-monied spouse left a job or career opportunities to get married and the anticipation was that the person would be essentially supported for the rest of their life by the monied spouse. There may need to be some short-term maintenance to compensate for that.

Can A Working Spouse Get Alimony Under New York Law?

Yes, absolutely. The way the statute is set up, it’s a comparison between the less monied spouse’s income and more monied spouse’s income. Even if the less monied spouse is earning income of fifty to one hundred thousand dollars a year they could still qualify for alimony/maintenance because one would plug the two incomes into the calculator and whatever turns out is the general rule. Then it becomes part of the monied spouse’s argument that if the less monied spouse is earning close to six figures that they may not need maintenance or alimony. That’s a deeper analysis that one would need to do as to what kind of lifestyle they got used to during the marriage, what kind of expenses they would have now or projected expenses upon termination of the marriage, etc.

What Are Some Specific Things That Are Unique To New York Regarding Alimony?

Among other things, the formula that is in place. Many other states do not have specific alimony formulas which New York implemented. That would get more uniformity in the awards of maintenance across different jurisdictions and within the same courts. Under the prior laws that existed, one could get one maintenance award from one judge and go to the courtroom next door and get a significantly different maintenance award based on the same or similar facts. The formula that’s in place now attempts to get that level of uniformity.

In my mind – and many commentator’s minds – there are still problems with the formula, especially for cases where the monied spouse does not earn all that much money for the greater New York City living situation. If somebody earns only $100,000 to $130,000 they may get a maintenance award against them that cuts too much into their income to be able to afford their own expenses – especially if they’re paying child support.

The original formula of maintenance had a cap of a combined income of $526,000. When they went to finalize the maintenance formula a few years later the cap was reduced to $184,000. The problem there is if the monied spouse is earning $10 million a year, that means they generally only have to pay maintenance on the first $184,000 of their income and then the rest of their income on the statute is not considered. When you have an income that high sometimes that can work to the detriment of the less monied spouse.

Certainly, it doesn’t mean that the court cannot consider maintenance using income above the cap, but they have to make an exception on the wording of the statute. And as aside, I may be in favor of raising that more significantly than $184,000. Perhaps there would need to be some compromise in there between the two polar figures of $184,000 and $526,000. This is all the more so in counties such as Manhattan, New York County, Westchester County where the expenses or the cost of living is so much greater than upstate counties. That’s where it gets very difficult to craft a statewide law like that because the living expenses are so vastly different between the greater New York City area and upper counties that it sometimes works out unfairly one way or the other.

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