Uncertainties Regarding Spousal Support Call for a Change in Law

In September of 1989, New York passed the “Child Support Standards Act” which, for the first time in New York, provided a mathematical calculation for determining the amount of child support the law presumes is appropriate for a parent to be required to pay, while still retaining a limited degree of discretion to the court in determining the amount of child support in each individual case, based upon specific circumstances.  For decades, no such calculation or certainty was provided in the law with regard to alimony or spousal maintenance payments, which have been entirely at the discretion of the court.  Although the law enumerates a number of different factors for the court to consider in establishing an appropriate level and duration of spousal maintenance, it has provided no direction or uniformity as to how to weigh or evaluate these various factors.  Consequently, over the years, maintenance has been treated quite differently (and often inconsistently) at different times, in different locations and by different judges.

That uncertainty may soon be coming to an end.  Both the Senate and Assembly have recently passed legislation that would provide for a similar type of calculation to determine the amount and duration of spousal maintenance (again retaining a certain degree of discretion to the court in specific and unique circumstances).  The proposed legislation still requires approval of the Governor before it becomes law.  However, if it is signed into law by the Governor, this would significantly impact future spousal maintenance awards in New York (however, it will not apply to the payment or modification of maintenance in any prior divorce) and will likely have extensive consequences in other aspects of future divorces as well.