Alimony is a payment that one spouse makes to the other spouse during or after a divorce. In New York, alimony is called "spousal support" (when the parties are still married) or "spousal maintenance" (when the parties are divorced).
The court's goal in awarding alimony is to help the less financially stable spouse meet their needs and, hopefully, become self-supporting. The type, duration, and amount of spousal maintenance a court will award depend on the specific facts of your case.
New York courts can order two types of maintenance:
There's no guarantee of a maintenance award in any divorce case. If the court decides that maintenance is appropriate, it can award one or both of temporary and postdivorce maintenance.
Either spouse filing for divorce in New York can request alimony. Usually the higher earning spouse (the "payor") makes payments to the spouse with lower (or no) income (the "payee").
New York law requires courts to use a statutory formula to calculate a suggested amount of temporary support. The fixed formula helps to keep temporary awards consistent and uniform. However, if the guideline support would be unjust or inappropriate, the judge has discretion to deviate from the guidelines.
To arrive at an amount for the temporary award, New York's temporary support calculator considers:
The amount of any temporary maintenance award will not affect the court's decision regarding postdivorce maintenance. Temporary maintenance ends no later than when the divorce is final or either party dies—whichever occurs first.
(N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 236(5) (2022).)
New York courts use a calculator to compute a standardized, suggested amount for postdivorce maintenance.Judges have discretion to decrease or increase the award if the guideline amount would be unjust or inappropriate.
Typically, judges consider a variety of factors in addition to the guidelines, including:
(N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 236(6)(e) (2022).)
Although the paying spouse's income is an important consideration when awarding spousal support, any income the spouse makes over $203,000 won't affect the amount suggested by New York's spousal support calculator. In other words, the court won't consider income over $203,000 in the calculation unless the judge finds a reason to increase the award.
A judge can increase the award above the cap when they find that the guideline obligation is unjust or inappropriate, based on the same factors it considers when deciding to award alimony (discussed above). If the judge finds that a deviation is appropriate, they must specify in a written order the adjusted amount, the reasoning for the amount, and the factors considered.
(N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 236(6)(d) (2022).)
Alimony can be "durational" or "nondurational," depending on the circumstances and the judge's evaluation. Durational awards last for a fixed period of time; nondurational awards continue indefinitely.
When a judge believes that a durational award is appropriate, they can use a suggested schedule that's based on how long the parties were married.
Along with this suggested schedule, the judge can also take into account the factors considered when deciding whether awarding support (discussed above), as well as the parties' anticipated retirement assets, benefits, and retirement ages.
The judge has discretion to award nondurational support when appropriate. For example, the judge might order payments without a set end when the marriage lasted a long time and one of the spouses never entered the workplace because the other spouse had a high income.
All support awards will end (regardless of whether they're durational or nondurational) if:
(N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 236(6)(f) (2022).)
The court usually orders the paying spouse to pay support periodically (typically monthly). Spouses can create an agreement for payment, like a monthly direct deposit, and the court will not interfere. However, in cases where the parties can't agree on a payment method, the judge will usually create an income withholding order to ensure timely payments each month.
Income withholding allows the paying spouse's employer to deduct the payments directly from employee wages and forward them to the recipient spouse. If a spouse fails to pay, the supported spouse can file a complaint with the court and request assistance collecting the past-due payments.
In some cases, parties will agree to a lump-sum payment of support, where the payor will provide the full amount of maintenance on a specific date. Lump-sum support is helpful for supported spouses because there's no need to wait for a check every month. However, most couples aren't in a financial position to provide a large sum at the end of a divorce.
Either party can request a modification of a spousal maintenance order when the payee is unable to be self-supporting on the current amount or there is a substantial change in financial circumstances. General financial hardship is considered a substantial change, as is the partial or full retirement of the payor if the retirement greatly affects the payor's income. (N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 236(9)(b) (2022).)
To modify your spousal maintenance order, you can file a motion in the New York supreme court or file a verified petition in Family Court (as long as the supreme court didn't retain control over your case). If you're not represented by a lawyer, you can use the Family Court's DIY program.
For divorces finalized before December 31, 2018, spousal maintenance payments are deductible on federal taxes for the paying spouse and are taxable income to the recipient spouse. However, under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, maintenance payments ordered on or after January 1, 2019, are no longer tax-deductible on federal taxes by the payor spouse and not counted as income for the recipient spouse.
New York state tax law differs from federal tax law: Alimony payments are deductible for the payor spouse, and are counted as income for the payee spouse. (N.Y. Tax Law § 612(w) (2022).) For questions about the tax implications of paying or receiving alimony in New York, it's a good idea to consult with a tax professional.