Guide to Alimony (Spousal Maintenance) Calculation in New York
Alimony, also called spousal maintenance or spousal support, is sometimes granted in New York divorces. The amount is based on one spouse’s ability to pay and the other spouse’s need for monetary support.
Calculating maintenance in New York is unique to each divorce situation and the parties involved. The calculation is complex, but the state does provide an online calculator you can use to get a rough idea of the amount in your case. In this blog, we walk you through several calculations so you know what a court might consider.
When is spousal maintenance awarded in New York?
When couples decide to get divorced, one of the most important things they must figure out is whether spousal maintenance will be awarded.
The person who pays alimony is the payor, and the person who receives it is the payee. Alimony payments for long-term marriages usually continue until the payee remarries or dies. For shorter marriages, however, the payments may be in a lump sum or have a specific end date.
Three types of New York maintenance
New York courts look at several factors when determining whether maintenance will be awarded, including the recipient’s need and the payor’s ability to pay. It may be awarded in a situation where one spouse gave up their career to raise a family, or it may be given to a newly divorced spouse who must return to school to become employable.
Spousal maintenance is not guaranteed in New York. Whether it is awarded depends on the specific circumstances of your marriage and divorce.
In New York, spousal maintenance may be broken down into three types.
Spousal support in New York is informal alimony paid during a trial separation or before formal divorce proceedings begin. For example, it might be paid in a situation where one spouse has moved out, no one has filed for divorce yet, and the lower-earning spouse needs support for basic necessities.
Temporary maintenance, also called pendente lite, is alimony paid during divorce proceedings. This often occurs when one spouse was the primary breadwinner and the other spouse needs help affording legal representation and paying for their basic needs during divorce proceedings.
Post-divorce maintenance is what most people think of when talking about alimony. These are the payments made from one ex-spouse to the other, either temporarily or permanently, to support that individual.
New York’s maintenance formulas
New York law involves two formulas: One for couples with children and one for couples without children.
The formula for New York couples with minor children is based on income. A person’s income is determined by their tax returns and includes W2 income, business income, and self-employment income. Taxes may be deductible, such as Social Security, Medicare, and some local taxes. New York state taxes and federal taxes are not subtracted.
New York caps the amount under consideration at $203,000. If your net income is greater than that, the formula will only calculate as if your income were $203,000. Be aware, however, that courts have the discretion to consider income above $203,000. So, if you make substantially more money than that, you may be required to pay more alimony – even if the base calculation suggests otherwise.
Courts can consider other factors when determining alimony, including the following:
- The standard of living during the marriage
- The age of each spouse
- The earning potential and financial resources of each spouse
A fictional example
Let's consider a situation where one spouse makes $100,000 and the other makes $50,000. First, take 25% of the lower-earning spouse's net income, or $12,500. Then, take 20% of the higher-earning spouse's net income, or $20,000. The difference between these two amounts is $7,500. Hold on to that number for a moment.
Now, take 40% of the combined parental income, or $60,000. Then, subtract the lower-earning spouse's income to get $10,000.
Assuming child support will also be paid, we need to look at these two calculations and take the lower amount. In this case, that's $7,500. This number represents the guideline for the total annual amount of alimony to be paid, and it breaks down to $625 per month.
If you don't have minor children, your calculation is similar, but different percentages are used.
A fictional example
In a situation where one spouse makes $100,000 and the other makes $50,000, take 20% of the lower-earning spouse's income, or $10,000. Then, take 30% of the higher-earning spouse's income, or $30,000. Subtract the two and get $20,000.
Now, take their combined income, or $150,000, and calculate 40% of that, or $60,000. Subtract the lower-earning spouse's income from that amount to get $10,000.
Take the lesser of these two calculations, or $10,000. That's the annual alimony amount, and it breaks down to $833.33 per month.
Confused? Understandable. New York has an online calculator you can use to get your alimony guideline amount.
FAQ about spousal maintenance in New York
Does the New York formula have an income limit?
Yes. The maximum amount calculated for the payor's alimony payments is a salary of $203,000. Note, however, that this amount was recently increased and will likely increase again in the near future.
Can an order for maintenance be challenged?
If you feel that an alimony order granted by the court is inappropriate, you may be able to challenge it. There are a few exceptions you may be able to claim: that the order was based on an error of law, or that you’ve experienced a substantial change in your financial situation.
- If you believe the court made an error of law, you can challenge it by filing an appeal. For example, if the court improperly calculated the amount of alimony to be paid, you could file an appeal noting the correct amount.
- If your finances have significantly changed since an order for alimony was granted, you may be able to challenge it by filing a motion to modify the order. For example, if your income has decreased significantly since the order was granted, you may be able to have it modified up or down, depending on whether you're the payor or the payee.
How long does alimony last in New York?
Alimony can be temporary or permanent, depending on the circumstances of your divorce. Temporary awards are often lump sums or payments with a specific end date. These are usually granted at the conclusion of short-term marriages.
New York suggests how long alimony should last based on the length of the marriage. Note that judges aren't required to hold to these amounts; they're simply an advisement to a judge.
- For marriages that lasted 0 to 15 years, alimony should last for 15% to 30% of the length of the marriage.
- For marriages that lasted 15 to 20 years, alimony should last 30% to 40% of the length of the marriage.
- For marriages that lasted over 20 years, alimony should last 35% to 50% of the length of the marriage.
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