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Alimony / Spousal Support FAQ for Long Island

by | Oct 29, 2019 | News and Events, spousal support

Alimony, also known as spousal support, is commonly ordered in a Long Island divorce. Here are answers to your most frequently asked questions about New York alimony:

What is Alimony / Spousal Support?

Alimony is a court-ordered provision or allowance from the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse during and after a divorce. It is similar to child support in that you can be legally held accountable if you don’t make scheduled payments, but unlike child support, it can be included in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.

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Why Do Courts Order Alimony?

Alimony is usually ordered for the purpose of giving the lesser-earning spouse a financial cushion while they learn to live independently and provide for themselves. In many cases of divorce, the lesser-earning spouse is at an extreme financial disadvantage post-separation, which alimony seeks to remedy.

For example, a spouse may have stayed home to care for their children while the other spouse pursued a career. If the working spouse decides to get a divorce, the non-working spouse must reenter the workforce, sometimes after many years. These individuals often find it difficult to obtain gainful employment without seeking additional training or education. In rare cases, they may never be able to adequately provide for themselves. Alimony is calculated based on need and ability to pay, and courts attempt to strike a balance between the two.

What are Other Names for Alimony?

Alimony is also called spousal maintenance and spousal support.

Is Alimony Different from Child Support

Alimony is not child support. A Long Island court can order someone to pay both child support and spousal maintenance if needed. Like child support, failure to make payments can result in being charged with civil contempt of court, which results in expensive and damaging penalties. Spousal maintenance can be included in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, while child support cannot.

Who Pays Alimony?

Either spouse can be ordered to pay spousal support. In the past, men were almost exclusively ordered to pay alimony to women in a divorce. This was generally because the husband worked while the wife stayed at home to care for their children. Today, women are increasingly likely to be ordered to pay spousal support to men. While men are largely still the dominant payers in regards to spousal maintenance, spouses of any gender, orientation, or age can be ordered to pay alimony to the other if a court deems it appropriate.

When is Alimony Ordered?

Spousal maintenance is ordered on a case-by-case basis when the court determines the need for it. In cases where a couple has a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement in place, spousal support may be a given. Usually, spousal support is identified by the spouse who files for divorce in the original petition, or if the higher-earning spouse is seeking the divorce, it will likely be in the response filed by the lesser-earning spouse. In some cases, alimony may be awarded by the court even if the lesser-earning spouse did not petition for it.

Can My Spouse & I Agree on Alimony?

Yes. If you and your spouse are in agreement about who gets alimony and how much, this can become part of your divorce decree. You can negotiate with your ex-spouse to come up with a satisfactory payment plan that works for both of you. Even if the amount paid is less than what a New York court would calculate, if both parties are in agreement, the court will typically allow the agreement to stand. Usually, courts only get involved when you or your ex-spouse pursue divorce litigation.

Are There Different Types of Alimony?

Yes. Temporary support is often awarded during the divorce to meet the immediate financial need of the lesser-earning spouse. Rehabilitative support is also temporary but extends past the finalization of the divorce decree. Permanent support is rarely awarded and when it is, it generally isn’t truly permanent. The type of spousal maintenance you end up paying or receiving depends on various factors of your marriage, such as its length, the standard of living to which you became accustomed, the financial need of the lesser-earning spouse, and the ability of the higher-earning spouse to pay.

How Long Does Alimony Last?

Spousal maintenance can end when:

  • A judge orders it
  • Both spouses agree to end payments
  • One spouse dies
  • The lesser-earning spouse remarries

Temporary alimony ends when a judge issues the final divorce decree, which may or may not include a provision for rehabilitative or permanent spousal support. Rehabilitative maintenance may be ordered for a period, after which it may cease or be reevaluated. Permanent maintenance may stay intact until death, remarriage, or a significant life event that alters the ability of the higher-earning spouse to make payments, such as a long-term serious illness or injury.

Do Prenuptial & Postnuptial Agreements Have Any Impact on Alimony?

Yes. If your prenuptial or postnuptial agreement includes an alimony clause, this is generally what will be awarded. However, you may be able to contest the validity of the prenup or renegotiate with your ex-spouse if what was included in the agreement no longer works for you and/or your ex.

How is the Amount of Alimony Calculated?

Spousal support is calculated using a variety of different factors, including but not limited to:

  • The age of both spouses
  • The mental and physical health of each spouse
  • How long the marriage lasted
  • The number, ages, and custody status of children, if applicable
  • The standard of living both spouses had become accustomed to during the marriage
  • What the prenuptial agreement says, if applicable
  • The education or trade skills of each spouse
  • The income of both spouses

A court will review your financial records and calculate your income and assets to determine what a reasonable support payment would be. If you and your ex-spouse agree on how much maintenance will be paid and how often, the court will typically award it without using the above to calculate a fair payment for both spouses.

How Do I Know How Much Alimony I’m Going to Have to Pay?

If your prenuptial agreement specifies an amount and duration of spousal support to be paid, you can expect to pay approximately this amount. Otherwise, it can be difficult to calculate because so many factors must be considered and the final verdict is up to the judge presiding over your divorce case. However, your attorney may be able to help you get a ballpark estimate by using similar guidelines.

How Do I Calculate Alimony for My DIY Divorce?

You can attempt to calculate how much alimony you will pay if you’re filing a DIY divorce, however, it’s highly cautioned against. It’s very easy for miscalculations or other mistakes to result in you paying more support than you actually owe.

Can I Negotiate the Amount of Alimony I Will Pay?

If you and your ex-spouse are open to negotiation, you can discuss a spousal support arrangement that may work for both of you. This is often done during divorce mediation with your divorce lawyer and can be submitted to a judge once the agreement is made. If you have a contested divorce and a judge orders you to pay support, you’ll have to abide by whatever the judge decides. However, you can present evidence of your financial situation during your hearing to help your case and illustrate to the judge why a higher alimony payment would be damaging to you.

What Happens If I Can’t Afford to Pay My Alimony?

If you can’t afford to pay your spousal support due to job loss, illness, or another drastic change in your ability to make payments, you do have legal options. However, it’s critical that you don’t simply stop making payments. You must have a judge sign a modification to your maintenance order to reduce or stop your payments for a length of time specified in the order. If you reduce or cease payments without an approved modification, you could be held in contempt of court, which is a criminal charge with a number of problematic penalties.

How is Alimony Taxed on Long Island?

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as of January 1, 2019, alimony is no longer an above-the-line deduction. The tax burden of spousal support shifted from the recipient to the payer; maintenance cannot be deducted before adjusted gross income is calculated. This change impacted families across the nation, especially those in higher tax brackets who were paying tens of thousands in support every year.

Will Being Self-Employed or Owning a Business Affect How Much Alimony I Will Pay?

If you own a business or are otherwise self-employed, you won’t necessarily be required to pay more support than someone traditionally employed. Spousal maintenance payments are calculated based on your total income, regardless of its source. That said, many business owners inherently make more than traditionally employed individuals, so their support requirements will be higher as a result. The primary differences that business owners see in divorce cases are that it’s easier to be accused of hiding assets and that it takes more effort to track down and provide accurate financial records.

Do I Need a Forensic Accountant in My Alimony Case?

Not necessarily, however, a forensic accountant is highly recommended in high-net-worth divorces. A forensic accountant’s job is to evaluate and uncover financial records as evidence in a divorce case, so you may also want to work with one if you suspect your ex-spouse may be hiding assets to avoid paying more maintenance.

How Can I Get Alimony?

If you believe you’re eligible to receive alimony after your divorce, the most important thing you can do is reach out to an experienced Long Island divorce attorney to learn about your legal options and what you may be entitled to. Your lawyer will review your financial circumstances and discuss with you the minimum you can expect to receive if your case is successful.

Can I Fight Against Paying Alimony?

If your ex-spouse is seeking spousal support, you may be able to fight against it or argue for your payments to be reduced with the help of an experienced New York divorce lawyer. If your prenuptial agreement included a clause about alimony that works in your favor, you can use it as evidence to show that you and your ex-spouse agreed on no alimony or a lower amount than they are seeking now. You can also show evidence that your ex-spouse doesn’t need alimony, such as if they’re working under the table for cash and get plenty of money to support themselves. If you want to lower the amount of alimony you are being asked to pay, you can provide evidence of your financial situation to show that making payments would be a burden.

How Do I Choose an Alimony Attorney on Long Island?

The lawyer you select to represent you during your alimony case can significantly impact its outcome. It’s important to work with a New York family law firm that has extensive experience with cases similar to yours. For example, if you’re self-employed, make sure your attorney has successfully won a number of self-employed alimony cases. Don’t hire a first-year lawyer if you’re divorcing with hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars’ worth of assets. Your divorce attorney should also be compassionate, caring, dedicated, and zealous enough to stand by you in court.

Contact our Long Island family law firm for a free consultation and case evaluation today at 631-923-1910.

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