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The basics of the New York spousal maintenance process

Some call it “alimony,” while others call it “spousal maintenance.” No matter what you call it, though, the fact is that maintenance payments are a part of many New York divorces every year. Alimony can sometimes be one of the most contentious parts of a divorce, and can bring additional stress to an already emotional and difficult time. In some instances, it might be possible to avoid the alimony fight during a divorce through the use of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. For other couples, they may be able to agree upon alimony without the need for court involvement.

If you plan to seek alimony in court – or plan to contest your former spouse’s request – having some knowledge of the process can take away some of the uncertainty and stress involved.


Traditionally, women have more often been the recipients of alimony payments, since it was more common for them to make career or educational sacrifices in order to run the household and care for the children. This is not always the case, though, and some fathers are now taking on this role as well, with their wives being the primary breadwinners. Still, as female salaries continue to lag behind male salaries, even for the same positions, there will likely remain an imbalance among the genders where spousal maintenance payments are concerned.

Temporary versus final

In some cases, it might be appropriate for the judge to order the payment of temporary spousal support from one party to another party when there is a large financial discrepancy between them. If this is so, the judge can use a statutory formula to determine the initial amount of maintenance, provided the higher-earning spouse’s income is less than $524,000 annually, and will award the lesser of the following:

  • 30 percent of the higher-earning spouse’s income minus 20 percent of the lower-earning spouse’s income
  • 40 percent of the combined income of both spouses minus 20 percent of the lower-earning spouse’s income

Once the formula has been applied, the judge can consider other factors (like the paying spouse’s ability to make payments while still meeting other financial responsibilities, property or assets that the lower-earning spouse owns that could keep him or herself financially afloat until the divorce is settled, child care needs for minor children, child support amounts, whether one spouse needs education or training to reenter the workforce and special medical or educational needs of the children), and decide to deviate up or down from the formula-derived amount.

Permanent alimony is less structured, and not guided by a specific statutory formula. Instead, the judge has discretion to examine facts relating to the couple’s marriage and divorce to determine an amount of maintenance that is fair under the circumstances.

Have questions?

This article, while helpful, is not inclusive of all you need to know about New York alimony. If you still have questions about the way that alimony works – or you are interested in seeking/contesting a spousal maintenance award – speak with a skilled New York family law attorney today.