New Yorkers seeking a divorce go through a lot of work to divide their property in a way that meets the state’s standards of fairness, but sometimes even the most evenhanded division of assets and debts leaves one ex-spouse at a distinct financial disadvantage. In these cases, courts may require spousal maintenance, also known as spousal support or alimony.
The purpose of maintenance is to help the financially disadvantaged spouse until they become financially independent. With that goal in mind, the obligation to pay maintenance is typically not permanent. The obligation ends when the receiving party remarries, after the death of one of the parties, on a specified date, when the receiving party reaches a certain financial threshold, or at some other point agreed upon by the parties.
How long, and how much?
Just as the parties can determine the duration of the maintenance obligation as part of their divorce settlement, they can also determine the dollar amount and frequency of the payments. However, to make sure the agreement is fair, the amount of the payments should be based on the same criteria courts use when the parties cannot reach agreement and the court must impose a maintenance order.
When deciding whether to impose an order, and how much maintenance is required, courts look at many factors. Three important factors are: the standard of living during the marriage; whether one spouse lacks the financial resources necessary to afford their reasonable needs; and whether one spouse has the financial resources necessary to afford to pay for the other spouse’s reasonable needs.
Courts decide these issues on a case-by-case basis, and the circumstances can be wildly different from one divorce to the next. Experienced attorneys can help people determine what needs are “reasonable” under the law, and how much they should expect from a maintenance clause in their divorce settlement.