For Those Contemplating Divorce, Changes in the Law Require Careful Thought on When to File


In October, New York enacted significant reforms to its divorce laws. Certain provisions regarding interim maintenance (spousal support within the divorce action itself) are already in effect, but most of the new law’s provisions only apply to actions commenced on or after January 25, 2016.

Among the most important changes to New York’s divorce law for actions filed on or after January 25, 2016 is the fact that degrees and licenses earned by a spouse during a marriage will no longer be considered “property” to value and distribute as part of final property distribution in the divorce. New York has long stood apart from other states in treating such “enhanced earning capacity” as “property,” but as of January 25, that difference will end. New York, like other states, will now only look at degrees earned during the marriage as a background issue to consider in deciding distribution of actual property, as well as a factor to consider in determining appropriate post-divorce alimony.

An important change to the law is that the duration of post-divorce alimony will be governed by guideline formulas (e.g., alimony for a period equal to 15% to 30% of the marriage for marriages of less than 15 years prior to the divorce action, up to alimony for a period equal to 35% to 50% of the marriage for marriages of more than 20 years prior to the divorce action). Another change is that such post-divorce alimony will now be determined under specific guideline formulas (comparing, among other things, the spouses’ incomes) applicable to all payer income up to a cap of $175,000.00 (subject to consumer price index adjustments every two years). If the Court deviates from the guideline, or awards an additional maintenance amount from payer income in excess of $175,000.00, it must state specific reasons for doing so based on certain statutory factors.

The factors considered by the Court include things like the age and health of the parties, their earning capacities and need for education to earn more, and marital standard of living. The new law also includes additional factors that will be considered, such as termination of child support (i.e. when the child turns 21) during the period in which alimony is being paid, whether the parties were a joint household even before the marriage, expected income from assets being distributed in the divorce, and whether a party will be caring for other children, stepchildren, disabled adult children or stepchildren, or elderly parents after the divorce.

The above changes to New York’s divorce law will significantly affect many cases depending on the specific facts of each case. For many people staring divorce actions now, final divorce awards may be very different, depending on whether they file before or after January 25. For people contemplating divorce now, it is imperative that they seek advice from a qualified matrimonial attorney well before that date.

Request a consultation with a Long Island divorce attorney at Wisselman, Harounian & Associates today.

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