New York’s Changing Views on Spousal Support

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In 2016, New York made significant changes in how spousal support is calculated. The goal was to provide more predictability in awards and address evolving perceptions of fairness. Whether the state has succeeded may depend on your point of view, but it has provided additional guidance to parties in negotiating a fair settlement. The biggest changes to spousal support in the last few years include the following:

  1. Establishing a legal formula. “Spousal support” also known as alimony, is now determined by a legal formula in New York. Previously, the court had broad discretion to make an award. Today, a judge’s discretion is based upon on a list of statutorily designated factors.
  2. Limiting the duration of support. Under the law, the duration of the spousal support obligation is essentially based upon the length of the parties’ marriage. Even where a marriage has lasted more than 20 years, there is still a hope that the recipient spouse will eventually become self-supporting. For many spouses who have spent years out of the workforce raising children, this may seem unfair. The view used to be that support should be rehabilitative. With the statutory formula now firmly in place, the focus is more about compensating the lesser earning spouse over time for their efforts during the marriage as opposed to rehabilitating them back into the workforce. With that said, the court may consider the parties’ age, health, need for training/education and other factors in making a final award.
  3. Changing the treatment of a spouse’s professional license, degree or other career enhancement. Under prior law, the value of a spouse’s enhanced earning capacity from a license was considered a marital asset subject to equitable distribution. A court would determine the lifetime value of a license earned during the marriage and would award a certain percentage to the non-titled spouse for the contributions he or she made toward the titled spouse’s attainment of that license. Today, the license is no longer a separate asset for equitable distribution purposes.

Although spousal support is subject to statutory guidelines, the parties can continue to negotiate their own agreement.

If you are considering divorce or you are divorced and seeking a change in your spousal support award, contact our office to learn how we can help you.

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