Concerns Linger over Temporary Maintenance Guidelines in New York’s No-Fault Divorce Law
We recently posted about New York’s latest no-fault divorce law, which would allow couples to obtain a divorce without having to claim one of the traditional grounds for divorce. Needless to say, the law will bring about major changes for the state of New York. In that article we mentioned how the law is beset by many challenges regarding calculating maintenance or spousal support.
The maintenance provisions in question are contained in the bill A.10984/S.8390. The intended purpose of the bill is to provide guidelines for courts when awarding temporary maintenance. Temporary maintenance is spousal support which is paid for a certain defined period of time. At the end of the specified time, the maintenance ends automatically.
Temporary maintenance is also called “durational” or “periodic” maintenance. There are several other types of maintenance awards, including permanent maintenance and rehabilitative maintenance. The bill only addresses temporary maintenance and does not really make any changes to final awards for permanent maintenance. In the state of New York the duration of the temporary maintenance will be determined by the length of the marriage.
Now, the main dispute over New York’s maintenance bills has to do with a clause that would allow a judge to consider “additional factors” when calculating temporary maintenance requirements. Some of these factors may include the type of lifestyle that each spouse leads, various comforts that the couple was accustomed to prior to divorce, and each spouse’s employment status.
The bill does include a complex equation which will help to calculate the amount of temporary maintenance. However, the “additional factors” clause seems to run counter to any amount of stable prediction that the equation might provide. Many critics feel that the clause creates a marsh of open-ended inquiries that judges might have difficulty navigating.
As mentioned in our previous post, a commission has been appointed to research maintenance standards in the state of New York. Still no word of an official report yet.
- Temporary Maintenance is only awarded when the income of the “less-monied” spouse is less than two thirds of the spouse with the higher income.
- The court will then award temporary maintenance in the amount of:
- 30% of the paying spouse’s income, minus 20% of the recipient’s income, OR
- 40% of the spouses’ combined income, minus the total income of the recipient spouse
- The amount may be adjusted in instances where the paying spouse has an income greater than $500,000
So if the paying spouse has an annual income of $90,000 a year, then a temporary maintenance award is only available if the non-monied spouse is less than $60,000 (less than two thirds). After that the court will continue the calculation to render an appropriate award amount.
Or, if you’re like me (allergic to numbers), you can simply punch and crunch the numbers using an online New York temporary maintenance calculator to see what a possible outcome might look like. So let’s say that the spouses have incomes of $90,000 and $59,000. Using the calculator, the result is a spousal award of $600/year.
Sounds simple enough right? That is, until the court decides that the calculated award is “unjust” or “unfair”. In that case they will have to go back and use the additional statutory factors to come up with a new figure and/or duration for the temporary maintenance.
That folks is where the problem lies.
To me, this is basically like saying, ok, we will provide you with a map and some directions to your destination. If you don’t like the route, simply toss it out the window and find your way around till you get there. If you get lost, here’s a list of roadside factors for you to consider.
So on the one hand, this new bill does at least provide a somewhat workable road map for judges to determine maintenance. At least there’s a calculation involved. However, the fact is that many judges still remain reluctant to use the additional factors. This means that, although the no-fault law makes divorce somewhat easy, all those small little details are still just as complicated. Hopefully for New Yorkers, these confusions are just temporary.