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Spousal Support

Monday, July 13, 2015

New York Legislature Passes Significant Changes to Alimony Laws

How are professional degrees treated with regard to spousal support in New York State?


In New York, spousal support – which is sometimes referred to as “alimony” – is determined based on a number of factors. First, the court will examine the earning potential of each party, as well as whether one spouse maintained a “homemaker” role during the marriage. As part of this review, courts have routinely included the long-term value of a professional degree and/or licensure in determining a party’s likely future income – and increased spousal support for the other party accordingly. More specifically, a spouse with a high-level doctorate degree would be considered to own a substantial “asset” in terms of future earning potential, and courts could consider this fact when quantifying a fair and equitable spousal support sum payable to the other party. 

However, citing concerns with the economy and job markets, the New York legislature recently took another look at this measure, and ultimately decided that professional degrees should not be considered “assets” for purposes of calculating alimony. The following details this important pending change, and we encourage you to contact a competent New York law office if you are considering a possible modification to your spousal support order. 

Details of alimony amendments

Following a months’-long push by advocacy groups including the New York Women’s Bar Association, the Family Law Section of the New York Bar Association and the New York State Maintenance Standards Coalition, the New York senate finally passed the sweeping changes to the alimony guidelines as of June 24, 2015, and received ultimate approval from the Assembly on June 25, 2015. Pending Governor Cuomo’s signature, the bill would overturn the standards added to the Code in 1980 after a wife was unceremoniously met with a disappointing alimony award after putting her career on hold to help her husband complete medical school. If the Governor approves, professionals will be treated no differently than any other litigant in this regard.

Historically, courts have relied on the figures presented by accountants during divorce proceedings to determine the approximate long-term value of a professional degree. However, in a statement by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, “[t]his is a very positive development because the maintenance guidelines will make awards more consistent and predictable, which will make it easier for divorcing couples to understand their financial rights and obligations.”

If you are looking for advice and counsel regarding your spousal support or alimony situation, please contact Nassau County, New York divorce attorney Howard B. Leff today: 516-739-7500. 

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