After years of criticism, New York's alimony laws are now within arm's
reach of significant change. Late last month, the New York state Senate
passed a bill that would amend how spousal support is calculated during
and following a divorce.
The Wall Street Journal reports, the new legislature focuses on two alimony laws that have been wildly
unpopular for spouses and matrimonial attorneys alike. The first concerns
"maintenance," which is the temporary support that is paid by
one spouse to the other while their divorce is being finalized.
Five years ago, a new maintenance formula was passed in order to assist
low-income New Yorkers responsible for providing maintenance. It did help
that group of New Yorkers, but for those in higher income brackets, it
wasn't uncommon judges to rule on maintenance calculations that were
more than their monthly earnings. Eventually, even advocates for low-income
divorce clients decried the new formula because it was so misleading as
to what final alimony rulings would actually later be.
Secondly, the new bill will end a controversial alimony law that requires
judges to work with experts to calculate the lifetime value of a professional
degree or license in order to arrive at a sum of awarded money. This requirement
was applied in cases involving "enhanced earning capacity"—even
when the individual with the degree had switched careers or didn't
work at all.
Much-Needed Alimony Reform
While the legislature is now being considered in the Governor's office,
few are currently opposing the changes the new bill stands to bring. From
matrimonial attorney associations to lawmakers, the current sentiment
is that alimony reform in New York has been sorely needed for some time.
"Different groups came together and compromised and it was really
great to be part of that," said Kate Wurmfeld, the supervising attorney
for matrimonial and family law for New York Legal Assistance Group. Senator
Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who co-sponsored the bill, also relayed her relief
to the press, saying "I’m sorry it took us this long to get
here but I’m glad we’ve arrived at this point."
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