“Spousal support,” also known as alimony, is determined by a legal formula in New York. As a result, the law offers some certainty about how much a spouse will receive or must pay and how long payments will last. Unfortunately, these provisions can be confusing and complicated especially since judges still maintain some discretion to change the amount or duration of the award. Below is a summary of the basics of spousal support.
How is spousal support calculated?
The formula calculating spousal support varies depending on whether the recipient is also getting child support and whether the payor’s income exceeds an income cap (which is $184,000 in 2019).
Generally, if the payor’s income is less than $184,000/year and the recipient is not receiving child support, spousal support is determined as follows:
(a) Subtract twenty percent of the payee’s income from thirty percent of the payor’s income; and
(b) Multiply the sum of the payor’s income and the payee’s income by forty percent;
(c) Subtract the payee’s income from the amount derived from clause (b) above;
(d) The court then takes the lower of the two amounts derived by clauses (a) and (c).
However, if the recipient is receiving child support, then the court subtracts 25% of the recipient’s income (instead of 20%) from 20% of the payor’s income (instead of 30%) and makes the same calculation described above. This adjustment is due in part to the apparent double payment for housing costs given that custodial parent and children share much of the space they occupy.
If the payor’s income is more than $184,000, the support calculation is more complex and variable.
(a) The court uses the formulas above for the income of the payor up to and including the income cap;
(b) For income exceeding the cap, the amount of additional maintenance awarded, if any, is within the discretion of the court which must take into consideration any one or more of the factors set forth in the statute;
(c) The factors the court may consider include the parties’ age, health, present and future earning capacity, standard of living, need for training/education, caregiving responsibilities, and tax consequences among other factors.
How long does spousal support last?
Under the law, the duration of the spousal support obligation is essentially based upon the length of the parties’ marriage. Generally, in marriages lasting less than 15 years, payments should last between 15% to 30% of the marriage’s length. For marriages of 15 to 20 years in length, payments should last between 30% and 40% of the length of the marriage. For marriages over 20 years, payments should last for 35% to 50% of the length of the marriage.
Is support negotiable?
Notwithstanding New York’s statute, there is still room for negotiation among the parties. For example, spouses may agree to forgo spousal support in order to receive a larger share of the marital estate, satisfy the support obligation through a lump sum payment, or negotiate a lower payment to account for tax impacts. Experienced attorneys and financial experts should be involved in the negotiation to help ensure each parties’ income and financial needs are properly evaluated to achieve a fair settlement.
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.