Jacqueline Newman Says Changes in State’s Domestic Relations Law Could Complicate Maintenance Determinations

Friday, October 9, 2015

Jacqueline Newman, Managing Partner, Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd, LLP, says that while changes to how alimony, or spousal maintenance, is determined will be helpful for some divorcing couples, it will make the process longer and more complicated for others. Ms. Newman points out that, until now, judges have had little guidance in determining what constitutes a fair amount of maintenance post-divorce. In this regard, the new law does create a set of guidelines, but these guidelines will not apply to a significant number of divorce proceedings.

On September 25, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill amending the New York State Domestic Relations Law, which changes the way pre- and post-judgment maintenance payments will be calculated when spouses divorce in New York. The law will also undo the practice of arbitrarily determining the amount to be given to the “less monied” spouse, which has been the standard practice for determining post-divorce maintenance since New York adopted no-fault divorce in 2010.

Under the new law, a formula will be adopted to determine what the “less monied” spouse will receive, the income cap — considered for applying maintenance formulas — will be reduced from $543,000 to $175,000 (the cap will be adjusted according to fluctuations in the Consumer Price Index) and the length of the post-divorce maintenance obligation will be tied to the duration of the marriage. This will also undo the 1985 Court of Appeals ruling in O’Brien v. O’Brien by eliminating the concept of enhanced earning capacity as a marital asset in equitable distribution.

“This new law caps combined income at $175,000, but many divorcing couples in New York City and the surrounding areas have incomes that far surpass this level,” Ms. Newman says. “For these higher-income couples, the new guidelines will not apply, and the courts will revert back to a lifestyle-based analysis to determine post-divorce maintenance. This will result in more litigation and court discretion. So, the formula that was supposed to assist the Courts and many divorcing couples in New York City and minimize litigation could end up having the opposite effect.”

Therefore, for high-net worth couples or anyone whose income exceeds $175,000 per year, it is more important than ever that he or she work with an experienced divorce attorney who will be capable of addressing the effects of this new maintenance law.

For more information, call 212.867.9123 or visit www.berkbot.com.




Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd, LLP, established in 1994, concentrates in divorce and family law. The firm is based in midtown Manhattan and serves clients across the greater New York area, including Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties. For more information, call 212.867.9123 or visit www.berkbot.com.