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Changes in spousal support laws: alimony harder to get

It's been about six months now since important changes in New York's alimony law took effect.

Overall, the changes make spousal support harder to get. This is in keeping with nationwide trends, which increasingly view alimony as a temporary arrangement while an ex-spouse gets back on their feet financially.

In this post, we will use a Q & A format to inform you about New York's current law and how it relates to these national trends

Do the terms alimony, spousal support and spousal maintenance all refer to the same thing?

Not exactly. It's confusing because the terms are often used interchangeably. But maintenance generally refers to temporary support, to be paid during the period after a divorce petition has been filed and ending when the divorce becomes final.

Permanent spousal support (which used to be called alimony) refers to payments that continue after the divorce. The term "permanent" is potentially misleading, however, as divorce decrees can be worded to have the payments end upon the occurrence of certain events, such as the recipient's remarriage.

What did the changes in New York law do?

The alimony law changes that took effect in New York in January 2016 were intended to do several things.

One was to shorten the amount of time that a spouse who wasn't the primary breadwinner can get spousal support, based on the length of the marriage. For example, under the old guidelines, someone who had been married for a decade could potentially get support for half that long. The change in the law shortens that to a limit of three of years.

The new law also puts a limit on the amount of income for the lower-earning spouse that can be considered in calculating alimony. That amount has been lowered by a factor of two-thirds, from $543,000 to $175,000.

Do these changes reflect national trends?

Yes, they do. Across the country, there is a trend away from permanent alimony awards. The premise is increasingly that everyone should work, with alimony as a short-term support in some cases to help a lesser-earning (or non-earning) spouse get back on their feet financially.

Do men get alimony very often?

No, that is pretty rare. Nationally, only about 3 percent of the spouses who receive alimony are men.

Getting skilled legal representation

Given all the changes in the law on spousal support, handling support issues effectively is critical. It isn't only a matter of negotiating about whether there should be support and for how long. If there is a support award, the divorce decree should also address circumstances other than remarriage under which it could be modified or terminated, such as cohabitation with a new partner.

It is therefore very important to get skilled legal counsel when spousal support is a potential issue in your divorce.

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