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There are two types of financial arrangements between spouses in New York. One is spousal support and the other is spousal maintenance The difference between the two is that spousal support is given to one spouse by another while the couple is still married. Spousal maintenance is given by one spouse to another after a divorce.
In the state of New York, alimony is known as spousal maintenance and prior to 1980, only wives were able to receive alimony in the United States. In 1979, in Orr v. Orr No. 77-1119, it was argued that women, as well as men, should have to pay alimony to a spouse who was in the same situation as a woman, that men should be eligible to also receive support from a wife who was in healthier financial circumstances than he was.
The Supreme Court decided the case by ruling that gender-based statutes in regards to divorce were unconstitutional. All 50 states then revised their alimony laws to reflect both genders eligible for alimony. Alimony or spousal support in New York is found in Domestic Relations Law 236¹ and consists of a Part A and Part B.
Spousal maintenance is usually granted for one spouse by the other who is more financially secure than their partner. The reasons can be varied but generally, it is used to assist one spouse in gaining financial independence from the other spouse. It can also be granted to allow one spouse to continue to maintain the level of lifestyle they had when married.
There are several factors that must be considered when the court is deciding on whether to grant spousal maintenance, how much it will be and for how long. Each case is unique with various elements to each case that will affect the outcome. By no means an exhaustive list, some of the following is what the court will use to help decide spousal maintenance:
- Income of both spouses
- Length of marriage
- Age and health of both spouses
- Present and future earning capacity of both spouses
- Distribution of marital property
- Tax and debts of both spouses
- Loss of Health Benefits of one spouse
- Where children reside
- Number of children
Spousal maintenance usually ends with the death of one of the parties, if the ex-spouse receiving the support remarries or if there was a time limit ordered for the maintenance and it has expired.
Spousal maintenance can be modified at any time, however, the court will need proof shown as to why one of the parties needs the maintenance order changed. Other than death or re-marriage, some of the following reasons are common for why a spousal maintenance order is modified:
- The spouse supporting the other loses their job
- The spouse supporting the other has an income decrease or increase
- The spouse who is receiving support becomes self-supporting
- The spouse receiving support starts living with another partner
- The spouse supporting experiences and illness
There are instances where a spouse’s social security benefits can be used in the determination of maintenance and the Social Security Administration (SSA) will withhold benefits in order to enforce spousal maintenance orders by the court. If you do not pay your spousal support maintenance, a garnishment of your wages can occur and the SSA will honor that.
Only an alimony or spousal support lawyer, knowing all the facts of your case, can advise you of what can be included, if you can receive spousal maintenance and how much that would be if you do receive it.
There are some instances when one spouse will attempt to hide assets from the other spouse so that less spousal maintenance will be awarded. In the state of New York, in the event of a divorce, each spouse is required to submit a Net Worth Statement, a financial disclosure which is a sworn affidavit to the court revealing their complete assets and holdings.
Either party not complying with this requirement will be subject to court penalties and fines. In the event that one spouse has great financial wealth, a lawyer may hire investigators to determine if they are hiding wealth that would influence the outcome of their client’s spousal maintenance award.
There are many variables involved in an alimony or spousal maintenance case and requirements that must be met by each party. It is always wise to disclose all facts and financial information to your lawyer even if you don’t think it is important as there are many things the court must consider when awarding spousal maintenance.
¹New York Consolidated Laws, Domestic Relations Law – DOM § 236. Special controlling provisions; prior actions or proceedings; new actions or proceedings, Find Law, http://codes.findlaw.com/ny/domestic-relations-law/dom-sect-236.html (last visited Jan 3, 2018).