Spousal maintenance is just one important aspect of a divorce that must be addressed. This refers to the sum of money that one former spouse may be ordered by the court to pay the other on a monthly basis following a divorce.
Although not granted in every case, it's a common issue that frequently arises.
Specifically, spousal maintenance is money the supporting spouse pays the dependent spouse on a monthly basis. Both parties' incomes, and other factors, play a role in determining spousal maintenance.
In some cases, a spouse may only receive temporary maintenance—money mandated to be given during the actual trial. After a judge renders a decision, these payments may stop. In other cases, one spouse may receive post-divorce maintenance, which is what we'll discuss in this article.
Post-divorce maintenance is money given to one spouse after the divorce is finalized.
Who’s who when talking about spousal maintenance?
- Supporting Spouse: The person who is paying the maintenance.
- Dependent Spouse: The person who is receiving the maintenance.
There is a long list of factors that influence just how much someone is required to pay in spousal maintenance.
Maintenance is typically awarded when one spouse makes significantly more money than the other.
As Joel M. Sunshine, partner at divorce law firm Sunshine & Feinstein, LLP, points out: “If the two parties are making the same amount of money or similar, maintenance is rarely awarded.”
Yet it’s not just the two parties’ incomes that matter, as the courts assess additional details in every case.
For example, the couple’s lifestyle while they were married and the marriage's duration is closely examined, as well as each party’s individual earning capacity. Such factors are important, because one spouse may have been used to a certain lifestyle but now doesn’t have the ability to maintain that lifestyle on his or her own, even while making top-dollar in his or her professional field.
Some cases even involve spouses who have been out of the workforce for decades because they stayed home with the children. As a result, they relied on their former spouse to provide for them. With the marriage ending, the dependent spouse will likely need financial assistance in the form of maintenance.
Still, since the courts evaluate other factors, it’s difficult to determine just how much maintenance will be awarded to one party in a case. These include, but are not limited to:
- Any inheritance one spouse is expected to receive
*If the dependent spouse has inherited a significant amount of money from a family member, for instance, the courts may not award him or her as much maintenance.
- Non-monetary contributions either spouse made during the marriage
*The previous example explains this a bit. If one spouse stopped working to stay home with the children and be their primary caregiver, the courts will consider that a non-monetary contribution.
- The child custody arrangement in place
- Equitable distribution of marital assets
- The care of an extended family member who lives with either party
*Let’s say the supporting spouse’s mother is disabled and relying on her child to take care of her. The courts will want to know this information and take it into account when deciding on maintenance.
- Any domestic abuse that took place during the marriage
- Overindulgent spending by either spouse
The duration a person must pay spousal maintenance varies.
Brian R. Feinstein, partner at Sunshine & Feinstein, LLP, explains that the length of the marriage plays a major role in determining how long one person will receive maintenance from the other—the longer the marriage lasted, the longer maintenance is typically required.
This means a dependent spouse who was married for 20 years, for example, will likely be awarded maintenance for a longer period of time than a dependent spouse who was married for 10 years. In fact, someone who was married two decades could receive money anywhere from one-third to half of that allotted time.
“So you could obtain seven to 10 years, after you’re divorced, of maintenance,” explains Feinstein.
“But again,” he adds, “there are other factors involved.”
For instance, a modification in maintenance will be permitted, if the dependent spouse remarries.
Entrusting the help of an experienced legal council is vital for anyone facing a divorce.
Without the right legal representation, the entire divorce process can be even more emotionally grueling. Just look at the many different aspects of maintenance alone—and this is just one part of the divorce. There’s also child custody and support and equitable division of the couple’s assets, as well as other elements to consider. For someone who isn’t well-versed in this field, it is overwhelming, to say the least.
As a result, it is critical to hire divorce and spousal maintenance lawyers with the experience, knowledge, and tenacity to fight for their clients. Exceptional lawyers don’t just answer their clients’ questions as the case is underway. They also continue to inform them after the judge makes his or her final decision—whether to provide insight into the tax-related implications of maintenance for both parties, or to instruct how to proceed if the supporting spouse isn’t keeping up with the payments.
Going through a divorce? Contact Sunshine & Feinstein today for a consultation.
Sunshine & Feinstein, LLP, 666 Old Country Road, Suite 605, Garden City, NY 11530. (516) 742-6444. This is Attorney Advertising.