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Sometimes clients are confused as to how spousal support works. As a psychologically-trained mediator and divorce attorney, I often define what spousal support is and how it applies to a couple’s situation in my mediation sessions with clients. In a mediation setting, spousal support can be negotiated with both Parties having a clear understanding of the topic. Spousal support can be calculated and defined to meet the goals of those going through a mediated divorce with ease. In a court setting however, there are specific guidelines on how spousal support applies and you don’t always have the luxury of negotiating what is in the best interest of both Parties.

Here’s how it works:

Spousal support, also known as spousal maintenance or “alimony”, helps the recipient achieve financial independence after a divorce. During the course of a divorce proceeding, it is awarded to the spouse (male or female, and in New York State this includes same-sex couples) who is financially dependent on the other spouse during the course of the marriage. Spousal support can be awarded on a short-term or lifetime basis but is generally given for rehabilitative purposes (so the lower income spouse can go get their MBA or their Ph.D to give them a better opportunity to earn a higher salary). At the present time, Spousal support is tax deductible for the payor and is taxable income for the recipient. However, this will change next year with the new tax law.

  • Not to be confused with temporary alimony or temporary spousal support, which is awarded only until a divorce is finalized.

Awarding spousal support is not as clear-cut as something like child support. While there is a formula in the New York Stature that is normally used to compute spousal support, the amount of money awarded is often subjective with a judge. And many different factors come into play when awarding spousal support.

  • Length of the marriage
  • Earning capacity of each Party in the divorce
  • Earning impairment for one or both Parties in the divorce
  • Property and whether it was acquired by one or both Parties before or during the marriage
  • Income of both Parties
  • Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements
  • The lifestyle maintained by both Parties during the course of the marriage

Because there are so many combinations and permutations of the aforementioned factors that affect spousal support, fighting over it can become costly and drawn out—in some cases for years after the divorce. In the court of law, you are essentially at the mercy of a judge who may have a biased opinion when it comes to the subject of how much spousal support you deserve.

Negotiating the spousal support amount with a professional divorce mediator is a much better idea than going to court because it allows for a solution that is in the best interests of both Parties. For example, because there are currently tax implications with spousal support, both Parties in the divorce can work with a mediator to review their expected income along with child support and the distribution of their marital property to find a tax-friendly resolution that makes sense for everyone.

With spousal support and divorce, there are always numerous question marks and concerns, but with proper counsel and support there is a solution!

If you have any other questions about spousal support and how mediation can be helpful when defining spousal support in a customized way, please feel free to call me at 212-734-1551.

I look forward to helping you.