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What is maintenance or spousal support?

On Behalf of | Jun 24, 2021 | Divorce

The end of a marriage can suddenly remove financial support and a spouse’s ability to pay for needs and maintain their standard of living. New York courts may order their spouse to pay maintenance or temporary maintenance when their marriage is over or a divorce is pending.


Maintenance or spousal support was, until years ago, commonly referred to as alimony in New York. Now, state Family Courts may issue spousal support orders. A Supreme Court can order temporary maintenance while the divorce is pending to maintain the spouse’s standard of living. These orders may be modified or enforced by the Family Court after the divorce is concluded.


New York courts used a presumptive formula for determining the amount of support or temporary maintenance that should be paid. A new law took effect in Jan. 2016 setting legally presumptive amounts and time periods for maintenance payments after divorce. Although these amounts and periods are presumed correct under the law, judges may order different amounts and times if they issue an explanation.

A math formula dictates the calculation of maintenance and support amounts under a 2015 law. The formula is based upon each spouse’s income.


Judges can restrict the time support is paid. A formula was established in Jan. 2016 governing the length of payments:

  • Maintenance is expected to last 15 to 30 percent of the length of marriages lasting up to 15 years.
  • Maintenance is expected to last 30 to 40 percent of the length of a marriage lasting 15 to 20 years.
  • Maintenance is expected to last 35 to 50 percent of the length for marriages lasting over 20 years.


Support orders may be modified if there is a substantial change in circumstances. The spouse seeking a change must file a petition with the court containing reasons for the proposed modification. There must be more than a substantial change to justify a modification if the support was based upon the spouses’ agreement.


The federal 2017 Tax Reform Act changed long-standing tax coverage for spousal support. The payor spouse cannot deduct maintenance or support in divorce cases or separation agreements signed after Dec. 31, 2018. Support payments are no longer taxable as ordinary income for the recipient spouse.

Health care

Family Court judges may also order a spouse to pay to continue health insurance coverage for their former spouse. An automatic order is issued after the filing of the divorce which prevents both spouses from changing insurance coverage without prior court approval.

Typically, a spouse cannot remain on the family policy after the divorce is granted. More expensive COBRA coverage may be available for up to 18 months. Courts can order the other spouse to help pay for the coverage if it is unaffordable.

Attorneys can help provide options to spouses concerning support. They may also assist them with protecting their rights in proceedings and negotiations.