All spouses have a duty to take care of each other, and that duty carries on even after divorce when one spouse needs financial assistance from the other, in the form of alimony payments.
Types of Alimony
In New York, alimony is referred to in three different ways: as alimony, spousal support, and maintenance. Temporary maintenance is an order that one spouse must financially support the other while the divorce is being finalized. Once the divorce is finalized, the temporary maintenance stops and the judge decides whether permanent alimony is appropriate. A spouse could receive temporary maintenance but no permanent order once the divorce is finalized, or could receive no temporary maintenance during the divorce but later receive a permanent order. Judges decide whether or not to order spousal support based on individual circumstances of each case.
Making Alimony Decisions
To decide whether spousal support is appropriate, the judge will look at the needs of the spouse asking for support and whether the other spouse has the financial ability to provide financial help. For example, if your income is lower than your spouse’s but you are able to support yourself, you may not be entitled to alimony. The court will also look at other factors when making a decision about support:
- the length of the marriage
- each spouse’s age and health status
- each spouse’s present and future earning capacity
- the need of one spouse to incur education or training expenses
- whether the spouse seeking maintenance is able to become self-supporting
- whether caring for children inhibited one spouse’s earning capacity
- equitable distribution of marital property, and
- the contributions that one spouse has made as a homemaker in order to help enhance the other spouse’s earning capacity.
The court will also look to see whether the acts of one spouse have inhibited or continue to inhibit the other spouse’s earning capacity or ability to obtain employment. The most common example of this would be domestic violence. If one spouse’s abuse of the other affected that abused spouse’s ability to maintain or to get a job, the court might consider those actions in making its order.
Duration of Alimony
Temporary maintenance orders terminate when a final judgment for divorce is entered. Even if you’ve been receiving alimony while your divorce was in process, you will only continue receiving payments if the judge makes a permanent order for it. Permanent alimony ends either on a date specified in the order, at the death of either spouse, or when the spouse receiving alimony remarries
Either of the spouses can ask the judge to modify the permanent order if there is a substantial change in circumstances. For example, if the spouse receiving support gets a better paying job, the court may reduce the payment amount or even terminate the payments.
The state of New York provides an online guideline calculator for temporary spousal support, which can be found here. The calculator only looks at each spouse’s income and does not take into consideration any of the factors listed above, so you’ll get an estimate but not necessarily the exact amount the judge would order.
Alimony is tax deductible to the paying spouse and reportable as income by the receiving spouse.
New York Statutes
§236: Special controlling provisions (all alimony)