In January 2016, a new set of laws will go into effect in New York State. It is expected that these new laws will add a level of predictability and consistency to post judgment maintenance awards in New York divorce cases.
The new maintenance laws adopt a formulaic approach to calculating post judgment maintenance awards. This approach has applied to temporary maintenance awards (maintenance to be paid while the divorce is pending) since 2010. The new post judgment maintenance guidelines replace the former approach where a judge, in his or her discretion, would consider a subjective list of factors contained in the statute to determine whether maintenance was awarded, in what amount, and for how long, often resulting in a wide range of results from case to case and courtroom to courtroom.
The new maintenance laws reduce the payor’s income cap for maintenance purposes to $175,000, reduced from $543,000, which will result in significantly lower maintenance awards in higher income cases. While the judge still has discretion to deviate from the presumptively correct amount of maintenance calculated in accordance with the new guidelines, in doing so they must set forth the factors considered and reasons for the deviation in a written decision.
The new statute considers the payment of child support in calculating maintenance and results in significantly lower maintenance awards where the payor is also the non-custodial parent already making child support payments.
Also included in the new laws are guidelines for the amount of time that post judgment maintenance should continue and are based upon the length of the marriage.
Another feature of the new law is the elimination of the consideration of the enhanced earning capacity of a spouse as a marital asset subject to equitable distribution. This means that a professional that obtained a license during the marriage will no longer face a valuation of his or her license and a percentage of the valuation being awarded to his spouse. For example, under the old law (pre 2016), if a wife stayed at home to raise children while her husband worked toward obtaining a medical degree and license, that wife would be entitled to a portion of the value of the medical degree and license. Under the new law, the wife does not receive any portion of the degree and license.