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New York Senate Approves New Alimony Overhaul Bill

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.

As 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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