Divorce FAQ: What is “Maintenance”?

“Maintenance” is New York State’s term for what many states call “Alimony”.  It is the amount of money that one spouse pays the other spouse, either on a monthly basis or in a lump sum, following the end of a marriage.  The maintenance amount, and if any should be paid, is one of many hotly contested issues in divorce cases.

Why is maintenance even an issue? What is its purpose?  Maintenance, under New York law, is intended to be a temporary solution in cases where one spouse needs time to attain self-sufficiency through gaining skills, education, or experience following the break-up.  It is often seen in situations where one spouse had been considered “the bread-winner” and the other spouse had been responsible for household and child-care duties. However, it can also arise in situations where one spouse works full-time and the other works part-time.

If I’m paying maintenance on a monthly basis, how many months do I need to make the payments?  The duration is usually spelled out in an agreement between the parties, if there is one.  If the spouses don’t reach an agreement, the court will determine how long it will take the supported spouse to become self-sufficient from the facts of the case. The maintenance award will end if either party dies, if the supported spouse remarries, or if the award is modified by the court at a later date.

How much does maintenance need to be?  The spouses can reach an agreement setting the amount of maintenance, or a spouse can obtain a court order.  Generally, a court conducting a proper analysis will have discretion in setting the amount of maintenance. The court will look at the spouses’ income, apply a statutory formula to receive a guideline range for an award, and then look at various factors in setting the maintenance amount.   The list of factors that the court can consider is long.  These factors include: the length of the marriage; the differences in the spouses’ income; the standard of living they had grown accustomed to; the ages and states of health of the spouses; the educational levels and job/future prospects of the spouses; the pre-marital state of affairs; and more.

In cases where maintenance is an issue, the benefit of retaining an experienced attorney can outweigh the costs.  Whether it is in crafting an agreement between spouses, or in presenting the facts and arguing the case before the court, having the right attorney on your side can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.