New York State Legislature Passes Alimony Overhaul
Measure changes how some payments are set
By SOPHIA HOLLANDER
June 24, 2015 8:57 p.m. ET
The original article can be located here
The New York state Senate passed sweeping revisions Wednesday to alimony laws that change how some payments are set and eliminate a long-debated requirement that judges calculate the lifetime value of a license or professional degree earned during the marriage, even if the spouse changed careers later.
The Assembly approved the bill last week.
A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the administration was reviewing the measure.
“They have finally provided solutions to problems that have been long overdue,” said Michael Stutman, the immediate past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers New York chapter, which had opposed previous versions of the bill.
The Senate’s action came five years after the state adopted legislation on alimony that eventually drew criticism from a wide range of bar associations and matrimonial lawyers.
That law introduced a formula to determine temporary alimony, known as maintenance, that is paid out between the filing of a divorce and its completion. It was intended to protect low-income New Yorkers, who may not able to afford lawyers, by providing predictability and consistency in awards.
It worked well for that group, many agreed. But it drew increasing opposition because it applied to people making more than $500,000 a year. Critics said it failed to account for the often more complicated financial situations of higher-income people, such as annual bonuses or mortgage payments.
As a result, there were extreme cases of spouses being asked to pay more in child support, alimony and other expenses than their monthly incomes.
Advocates for low-income New Yorkers also were eager to revise the law, because the formula didn’t apply to post-divorce alimony, leaving those decisions as unpredictable as ever.
The new bill preserves the temporary maintenance guidelines and extends them to post-divorce alimony, but now the formula will apply to income up to $175,000, down from $543,000.
It provides judges with suggested ranges for the length of maintenance awards, including proposing seven to 10 years for marriages lasting 20 years, and changes the formula if child support is involved.
It also gets rid of the legal quirk whereby money was awarded for a percentage of the lifetime value of a license or professional degree earned during the marriage—a value set by the judge with the help of experts. Under the law regarding so-called enhanced earning capacity, the money was awarded regardless of whether the person ended up switching careers or suffered an injury that prevented him or her from working.
Matrimonial-law associations hailed the changes as providing predictability for lower income New Yorkers, while preserving judicial flexibility in more complicated cases.
“I think it is a dramatic change,” said Brooklyn Democratic Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, after the bill passed 146-1. She was the lead sponsor of the legislation in the Assembly.
“I’m sorry it took us this long to get here but I’m glad we’ve arrived at this point,” said state Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a Democrat representing Westchester and part of the Bronx, and a co-sponsor of the bill.
Significant changes were needed, advocates on all sides said.
“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, which works with low-income New Yorkers.
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