New Temporary Spousal Maintenance Provisions are Now In Effect

I have previously written about upcoming changes to New York’s spousal maintenance law. The Governor finally signed the new maintenance law, Ch.269 of the Domestic Relations Law on Friday, September 25th.  The Temporary Maintenance provisions became effective 30 days thereafter, on October 25, 2015, and the balance of the law goes into effect 120 days after signing, on January 23, 2016. The new provisions represent a major change from the prior provisions that have been in effect since 2010.

The most significant of these changes is that formulas will now be used to determine both temporary and post-divorce maintenance. In the past, post-divorce maintenance determinations were largely up to the court’s discretion and were usually based upon applicable prior decisions. The following details how the two new formulas will work:

With child support where the maintenance payor is also the non‐custodial parent for child support purposes: (i) subtract 25% of the maintenance payee’s income from 20% of the maintenance payor’s income; (ii) multiply the sum of the maintenance payor’s income and the maintenance payee’s income by 40% and subtract the maintenance payee’s income from the result; (iii) the lower of the two amounts will be the guideline amount of maintenance.
Without child support, or with child support but where the maintenance payor is the custodial parent for child support purposes: (i) subtract 20% of the maintenance payee’s income from 30% of the maintenance payor’s income; (ii) multiply the sum of the maintenance payor’s income and the maintenance payee’s income by 40% and subtract the maintenance payee’s income from the result; (iii) the lower of the two amounts will be the guideline amount of maintenance.

Additionally, numerous other key changes are included.

A $175,000 income cap will be set on all temporary and post-divorce maintenance calculations. This is a major reduction from the current $543,000 cap. Maintenance calculations will now be made before child support calculations, thus allowing child support decisions to consider burdens from the maintenance determinations.

The duration of post-divorce maintenance will now be decided using a new advisory schedule:

Zero to 15 years of marriage: maintenance should last between 15 and 30 percent of the marriage’s duration.
16 to 20 years of marriage: maintenance should last between 30 and 40 percent of the marriage’s duration.
20 years of marriage or more: maintenance should last between 35 and 40 percent of the marriage’s duration.

Further, considerations of “enhanced earning capacity” will end. Until this statute was passed, attorney usually worked with experts to determine enhanced earning capacity, for example, the lifelong value of a professional degree that was earned over the course of a marriage. These calculations will no longer be used in helping to determine spousal maintenance. However, enhanced earnings may still be considered by the court when distributing other marital assets.

The changes to the Domestic Relations Law will likely result  in greater uniformity of spousal support awards. Further, elimination of enhanced earnings as a distributable asset represent a major change in New York’s law.

Temporary Maintenance and Payment of Additional Expenses by Monied Spouse

One issue that comes up fairly often in divorce cases is the issue of whether the monied spouse who is paying temporary maintenance is also responsible for additional expenses incurred by the non-monied spouse. At least some of the prior decisions held that when the temporary maintenance is being paid, the recipient was responsible for his or her living expenses, including any mortgage payments or housing expenses.

However, it appears that at least some of the appellate decisions hold otherwise. In Vistocco v. Jardin,116 A.D.3rd 842 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept.), the parties were married in 1995 and had three unemancipated children. The wife made a request for temporary maintenance as well as for payment of carrying costs on the marital residence. The trial court awarded the defendant $3,000 per week for child support and $3,000 per week in temporary spousal maintenance, directed the plaintiff to pay the mortgage and taxes on the marital residence where the defendant resided with the parties’ children, directed the plaintiff to pay the defendant’s car insurance, and awarded the defendant interim counsel fees and expert fees in the sums of $12,500 and $3,500, respectively. The Appellate Division affirmed.

The plaintiff argued that the Supreme Court erred in directing him to pay, in addition to spousal maintenance, the mortgage and taxes on the marital residence and the defendant’s car insurance. He contended that the pendente lite maintenance award is intended to cover the defendant’s basic living expenses, which include the mortgage, property taxes, and her car insurance. The Appellate Division held that the formula to determine temporary spousal maintenance that is outlined in Domestic Relations Law § 236(B)(5-a)(c) is intended to cover all of a  payee spouse’s basic living expenses, including housing costs, the costs of food and clothing, and other usual expenses (see  Khaira v. Khaira, 93 AD3d 194). It further held that it may be appropriate to direct payment by the monied spouse of the mortgage and taxes on the marital residence and other expenses of the nonmonied spouse under certain circumstances (see id.). In light of the evidence that the plaintiff’s income exceeded $500,000 and the gross disparity between the plaintiff’s income and the defendant’s income, the trial court properly awarded additional support in the form of a directive to the plaintiff to pay the mortgage and taxes on the marital residence (Domestic Relations Law § 236[B][5-a][c][2][a][ii] ), as well as the defendant’s car insurance.

Unfortunately, until the Court of Appeals hears a case involving these issues, it is likely that there will not be uniformity among the trial court decisions. If you are non-monied spouse, you have nothing to lose by making a request for carrying costs of the marital residence, provided that there is financial wherewithal on the part of the monied spouse. Ultimately, a decision of whether such additional should be requested should be made on case by case basis.

Standard of Living, Diminished Income, Spousal Maintenance and Child Support

The courts in New York have had some difficulty dealing with situations were a claim of recently diminished income has been presented to the court in response to a temporary spousal support application. In most situations, the courts would either impute income or deny downward modification. The courts have been concerned with the parties’ standard of living for the non-monied spouse and the children despite  the claims of the income-producing spouse of diminished resources and/or income. One trial decision, S.A. v. L.A., 2 Misc.3d 7441 (Sup. Ct. Westchester Co.), illustrates the situation where the present financial situation – the husband earning a lot less income than existed throughout the marriage, has led the court consider present circumstances and to caution the non-monied spouse that she would have to deal with a new economic reality.

In considering interim spousal support, the court had to determine if it would apply the husband’s 2012 income of $819,049 or his far lesser annualized 2013 income imputed at $240,000. The husband was 56 years old and employed in the financial services industry. The wife was 64 years old stay-at-home wife and mother, who has not had any significant for 23 years of the marriage. The husband claimed that he was terminated from his old job through no fault of his own and he was forced to find new employment at a much lower rate of pay. The wife argued that he had voluntarily left his former employment.

The court had to address the principles of utilizing the current income as opposed to the income on the last tax return on a presumptive temporary maintenance calculation. The court determined that according to the language of the Domestic Relations Law §240 (1-b) (b) (5), the income rules applicable in child support proceedings may be used to determine an application for temporary spousal maintenance, as is available for interim child support.

The second part of the court’s analysis, and of great significance, was the court’s view of the parties’ present diminished financial situation from their historic standard of living even as measured by the immediately preceding year. The reduction in the family’s income from the husband’s 2012 adjusted gross income of $819,049.00 to the annualized 2013 income of $240,000.00, was accepted by the court. As result, instead of presumptive temporary support of $17,000.00 per month as requested by the wife, the court awarded $5,737.00 per month. The court further found that with the requested amount of $17,000.00 exceeded the wife’s legitimate monthly expenses, rendering the presumptive award unjust and inappropriate. The court ruled that the issue of whether the husband had been discharged or voluntarily separated from his old employment was reserved for trial.

In its decisions, the court stated that:

The court recognizes that the spousal support provisions in this decision and order will greatly affect the parties’ respective post-separation standards of living. They need to consider the financial predicament they are in, and how to deal with the future. They are now suffering the consequences of their prior high standard of living. It is beyond dispute that two cannot live as cheaply as one, and that “hardship” at any economic level follows drastic losses of income. It is time for the parties to recognize the financial reality they may well face in the future, given their ages, work experience and future prospects for employment. The court urges that the parties’ focus should be on financial planning with asset and debt liquidation. The continuance of this costly litigation will not heal their wounds, both economic and emotional, already suffered, but rather will exacerbate them.

The decision in S.A. v L.A. illustrates that during the difficult economic times, the parties may have to temper their expectations. If a monied spouse can not earn past levels of income through no fault of his or her own, the non-monied spouse is likely to have to share the hardship as well.

Future Changes to Spousal Maintenance

When New York Legislature passed the “no-fault” divorce statute in 2010, it created a formula for calculating temporary spousal maintenance under DRL §236[B]5-a. However, it did not set forth a formula or specific rules for establishing spousal maintenance post-divorce. At the same time, the Legislature directed that a law revision commission be set up to review New York’s spousal maintenance law and make recommendations to the legislature with regard to potential changes.

On May 15, 2013, the Commission issued its “Final Report on Maintenance Awards in Divorce Proceedings”.  The Commission recommended that that a mathematical formula be used to calculate a presumptive award of post-divorce income from one party to the other based on the parties’ combined adjusted gross income of $136,000. It stated that in awarding post-divorce income, the court can adjust the presumptive award based on a set of statutory factors if it finds that the presumptive award is unjust or inappropriate based on the circumstances of the parties.  If the parties’ combined adjusted gross income exceeds $136,000, the Commission recommended that the mathematical formula apply to that portion of the parties’ combined income which is at or less than $136,000, and that the court be guided by a set of factors in considering whether an additional award is justified based on any excess income.

The Commission also recommended that the duration of any post-divorce income award be based on consideration of the length of the marriage, the length of time necessary for the party seeking post-divorce income to acquire sufficient education or training to enable that party to find appropriate employment, the normal retirement age of each party as defined by the Internal Revenue Code and the availability of retirement benefits, and any barriers facing the party seeking post-divorce income with regard to obtaining appropriate employment, such as child care responsibilities, health, or age. The court would have to state the basis for the duration of the award in its decision granting the award. Further, the duration of temporary maintenance awards would be limited so that maintenance awards do not exceed the length of the marriage.

One suggestion that was made by the Commission that would be a significant departure from the existing law is that the Commission recommended that one party’s increased earning capacity, no longer be considered as a marital asset in equitable distribution under section 326B(5), and that any spousal contribution to the career or career potential of the other party be addressed in an award of post-divorce income. The concept of an “increased earning capacity”, also known as “enhanced earnings“, has created much prior litigation because of the asset’s intangible nature, the need for valuation, the speculative nature of its “value” as well as the costs associated with valuations, and problems of double counting increased earnings in awards of post-divorce income and child support.

The Commission additionally recommended that the provisions of a revised temporary maintenance statute in the Domestic Relations Law be mirrored in section 412 of the Family Court Act governing spousal support awards.

If the Legislature adopts the report, it is likely to represent some of the most significant changes to New York’s Family law since New York adopted its equitable distribution and child support statutes. It remains to be seen if the Legislature will accept some or all of the Commission’s recommendations.

New Temporary Maintenance – How Does It Work?

Among recent changes to New York’s divorce laws, the legislature amended provisions of the Domestic Relations Law that deal with temporary spousal maintenance.  DRL §236(B)(5-a)(c) presently includes a formula which, if applied according to the statute, results in the presumptively correct amount of temporary maintenance. DRL §236(B)(5-a)(c)(1) describes how those provisions are applied:

(a) the court shall subtract twenty percent of the income of the payee from thirty percent of the income up to the income cap of the payor.
(b) the court shall then multiply the sum of the payor’s income up to and including the income cap and all of the payee’s income by forty percent.
(c) the court shall subtract the income of the payee from the amount derived from clause (b) of this subparagraph.
(d) the guideline amount of temporary maintenance shall be the lower of the amounts determined by clauses (a) and (c) of this subparagraph; if the amount determined by clause (c) of this subparagraph is less than or equal to zero, the guideline amount shall be zero dollars.

According to the legislative documents, the legislature intended that the temporary maintenance guidelines would only result in an award when there is an income gap between the two parties such that the less-monied spouse’s income is less than two thirds of the more-monied spouse’s income. For instance, if the payor’s annual income is $60,000 per year, the guidelines will only result in an award if the payee’s annual income is less than $40,000. The numerical guideline is only applied to the payor’s income up to $500,000 of her/his income, with a set of factors to be applied by the court to determine any additional amount of temporary maintenance on the payor’s income above this $500,000 cap.

Here are some examples of how the statute works:

Example 1

Step # 1: Determine Respective and Combined Income:
Payor‘s Income $60,000
Payee‘s Income $30,000
Combined Income $90,000
Step # 2: Perform Calculation # 1: (Subtract twenty percent of the income of the payee from thirty percent of the income up to the income cap of the payor.):
30% of Payor‘s Income (30% x $60,000) = $18,000
Minus
20% of Payee‘s Income (20% x $30,000) = $6,000
Result of Calculation # 1: $12,000
Step # 3: Perform Calculation # 2: (Multiply the sum of the payor’s income up to and including the income cap and all of the payee’s income by forty percent):
Payor‘s Income = $60,000
Plus
Payee‘s Income = $30,000
Combined Income Equals $ 90,000
Multiplied by 40% ($ 90,000 x 40%) = $36,000
Subtract Payee‘s Income from Product:
($36,000 minus $30,000 = $6,000)
Result of Calculation # 2: $6,000

Because paragraph (d) provides that the guideline amount of temporary maintenance shall be the lower of the amounts determined by clauses (a) and (c) of this subparagraph; if the amount determined by clause (c) of this subparagraph is less than or equal to zero, the guideline amount shall be zero dollars, and because Calculation # 2 is the lesser amount, specifically, $6,000, Calculation # 2 controls, and the temporary maintenance award would be $6,000.

Example 2

Step # 1: Determine Respective and Combined Income:
Payor‘s Income $120,000
Payee‘s Income $80,000
Combined Income $200,000
Step # 2:
Perform Calculation # 1: (Subtract twenty percent of the income of the payee from thirty percent of the income up to the income cap of the payor.):
30% of Payor‘s Income (30% x $120,000) = $36,000
Minus
20% of Payee‘s Income (20% x $80,000) = $16,000
Result of Calculation # 1: $20,000
Step # 3: Perform Calculation # 2: (Multiply the sum of the payor’s income up to and including the income cap and all of the payee’s income by forty percent):
Payor‘s Income = $120,000
Plus
Payee‘s Income = $80,000
Combined Income Equals $200,000
Multiplied by 40% ($ 200,000 x 40%) = $ 80,000
Subtract Payee‘s Income from Product:
($80,000 minus $80,000 = $0)
Result of Calculation # 2: $0

Because paragraph (d) provides that the guideline amount of temporary maintenance shall be the lower of the amounts determined by clauses (a) and (c) of this subparagraph; if the amount determined by clause (c) of this subparagraph is less than or equal to zero, the guideline amount shall be zero dollars, and because Calculation # 2 is the lesser amount, specifically, zero, Calculation # 2 controls and the temporary maintenance award would be zero.

Example 3

Step # 1: Determine Respective and Combined Income:
Payor‘s Income $100,000
Payee‘s Income $20,000
Combined Income $120,000
Step # 2: Perform Calculation # 1: (Subtract twenty percent of the income of the payee from thirty percent of the income up to the income cap of the payor.):
30% of Payor‘s Income (30% x $100,000) = $30,000
Minus
20% of Payee‘s Income (20% x $200,000) = $4,000
Result of Calculation # 1: $26,000
Step # 3: Perform Calculation # 2: (Multiply the sum of the payor’s income up to and including the income cap and all of the payee’s income by forty percent):
Payor‘s Income = $100,000
Plus
Payee‘s Income = $20,000
Combined Income Equals $120,000
Multiplied by 40% ($120,000 x 40%) = $48,000
Subtract Payee‘s Income from Product $100,000
($48,000 minus $20,000 = $28,000)
Result of Calculation # 2: $28,000

Because paragraph (d) provides that ―the guideline amount of temporary maintenance shall be the lower of the amounts determined by clauses (a) and (c) of this subparagraph; if the amount determined by clause (c) of this subparagraph is less than or equal to zero, the guideline amount shall be zero dollars,and because Calculation # 1 is the lesser amount, specifically, $26,000, Calculation # 1 controls and the temporary maintenance award would be $26,000.

There are several issues that are not addressed by the new statute. Initially, prior to its enactment, judges had discretion to set temporary awards based upon the actual needs of the parties. Under the prior statute, temporary maintenance was awarded to allow the non-monied spouse to preserve his or her financial circumstances and maintain the prior lifestyle during the divorce. While the goal of the prior statute was laudatory, unfortunately, the temporary maintenance awards varied greatly from case to case.

Since the new statute creates uniformity by using a formula, temporary maintenance awards are going to be consistent as far as their amount is concerned. At the same time, the new statute doe snot address duration of the maintenance and length of the marriage of the parties. For temporary maintenance purposes, a spouse in a long term marriage would receive the same temporary maintenance award as a spouse in a short term marriage. This is likely to create an incentive for parties in a short term marriage and their lawyers to extend the divorce action as long as possible.

Another problem with the new statute is that it applies to the first $500,000 of income, someone married to person who earns well in excess of that figure would receive less under the new statute than he or she would be entitled to receive under the old law, when the full income was used for determining temporary maintenance.

Finally, the temporary maintenance statute creates certain expectations on part of both litigants and judges. For litigants, there is now an expectation that any maintenance will be at the level set by the temporary maintenance formula. For judges, it is an easy way to set the final maintenance award.

No-Fault Divorce Becomes Law In New York

The no-fault divorce bill has been signed by the Governor Patterson and will go into effect in 60 days.  That means that starting on October 13, 2010, someone who wants to be divorced in New York will no longer be required to make allegations of martial fault by the other spouse and will only be required to swear that the relationship between husband and wife has  broken  down  irretrievably  for  a period of at least six months.  The new law will apply to the divorce actions commenced on or after such effective date.

In addition, the Governor signed legislation that will revise the process for setting awards of temporary maintenance while a divorce is pending, by creating a formula and list of factors that would presumptively govern such awards. This would allow for speedy resolution of the maintenance issue, and prevent less well-off parties to divorce proceedings from falling into poverty during litigation, because they lack the resources to obtain a temporary maintenance order. Another bill would create a presumption that a less monied spouse in a divorce case is entitled to payment of attorneys’ fees. Under current law, a party that cannot afford to secure representation in a divorce proceeding must make an application for fees at the end of the process, which can force a poor individual to proceed without a lawyer, or to surrender on important issues due to lack of means. Provisions of the Domestic Relations Law related to temporary maintenance and attorneys fees will go into effect in 60 days as well.

These are important development in New York’s family law and I think that it will take some time to assess their impact.  At the same time, I think that they will be welcomed by divorce lawyers in this state and will make divorce easier for the divorcing spouses. With respect to the bill establishing the formula for temporary maintenance, it is highly likely that any such temporary maintenance award is going to be used by the courts as a basis for a permanent maintenance award.