Maintenance, also known as spousal support or alimony in some states, is financial support given to one spouse from the other when there is a significant disparity in income between the payor spouse and the recipient spouse. The purpose of a maintenance award is to help the receiving spouse become financially independent after a divorce.
Divorcing couples who choose traditional divorce litigation in New York give up control of the award of maintenance and are instead limited to the amount calculated by state guidelines. Although the maintenance guidelines are intended to simplify the calculation of maintenance, the standard formulas are not always as straightforward as they appear: awarding maintenance has many factors and complexities, and the one-size-fits-all calculation isn’t always the best financial decision for every family.
Families who choose divorce mediation in New York over traditional litigation are not bound by the state guidelines and have the freedom to negotiate their own agreement as to maintenance.
Overview of New York Maintenance
In 2015, the legislature enacted formula guidelines that are universally applied to all awards of maintenance that are brought through the court system effective as of January 25, 2016. Based on a broad and often confusing definition of “income” that encompasses all income, both direct and indirect, the formula guidelines only apply to the payor’s income up to a cap of $184,000. For those whose income exceeds the cap, the court has discretion to award larger amounts of maintenance based on a number of statutory factors. This makes it impossible to predict the amount of maintenance that may be awarded by a court when the payor’s income exceeds the $184,000 cap. Furthermore, the court also has discretion to deviate from the formula guidelines if they determine that the result would be “unjust or inappropriate” based on their consideration of these statutory factors.
Maintenance automatically terminates on the death of either party or in the event of the remarriage of the party receiving the payment. In the event that neither happens, the court has several options: the judge can consider an advisory schedule of permanent maintenance based on the length of the marriage (calculated from the date of the marriage until the date of the commencement of the divorce action), choose to ignore the advisory schedule completely, or grant a non-durational award which only ends at the death or remarriage of the payee.
For a rough estimate of how maintenance may be calculated in your case up to the present statutory cap, you can access the New York State’s Unified Court System’s online calculator. Note that when child support is also at issue, the state law requires that maintenance be calculated prior to child support.
Benefits of Agreeing to Maintenance During Mediation
While the standard state guidelines take into consideration a number of factors in their calculations, in some cases it may seem that the most important factors—the unique needs, values, and considerations of your family—aren’t adequately represented.
Those parties who choose to come to a private agreement on maintenance in divorce mediation, however, are entirely free to make their own decisions as to whether maintenance is appropriate in their case and, if so, in what amount and for what duration. State law doesn’t obligate the parties who reach an agreement through mediation to apply the guidelines, show how they arrived at their decision, or have a court approve the agreed upon amount or duration of support (unlike private child support agreements).
Divorce mediation allows your family to arrive at these important decisions in a way that is workable for both parties and best addresses your family’s unique needs and circumstances.