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Commission Reviews New York’s Spousal Maintenance Law

Alimony, known in New York as spousal maintenance, is an emotional and often hotly debated issue in divorces. In 2010 New York enacted guidelines for temporary maintenance awards, i.e. awards to be made while a divorce case is still pending. Unfortunately, although the law provided consistency to such awards, it did not provide any guidelines for awards of maintenance once a divorce was concluded. The law also failed to address many issues applicable to high-income earners such as one-time bonuses, and the payment of monthly living expenses. Thus, some judges have awarded temporary maintenance in addition to ordering a spouse to make mortgage and other payments. In some extreme cases, payor spouses have been ordered to pay sums which exceed their present income.

An independent commission recently completed an evaluation of New York’s maintenance laws, and released a report recommending a set of sweeping changes. Among the suggested changes were new formulas for awarding spousal maintenance, and abolishment of a unique New York precedent arising from the case O’Brien v. O’Brien, 66 N.Y.2d 576, 498 N.Y.S.2d 743 (1985). The O’Brien decision provided that a professional license or professional career potential can have a monetary value, can be considered marital property, and divided between the parties. This has led to much prolonged and expensive litigation among couples seeking to evaluate each other’s advanced educational degrees and professional licenses.

See, The Wall Street Journal, “New York Divorce Law Moves Closer To Overhaul,” Sophia Hollander, May 17, 2013.

For more information, contact Michael D. Weinstein, Esq., Family Law Attorney, Divorce Law Attorney

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