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What is spousal support and maintenance?

On Behalf of | Mar 23, 2022 | Family Law |

In addition to child support, married or divorced spouses may need other support to continue their standard of living or to make up for the loss of income when they raised children or made other sacrifices for the family.  New York law governs this support and its requirements.

Spousal support and maintenance

Courts may order spousal support, formerly called alimony. Maintenance or temporary maintenance is court-ordered support for an ex-spouse while a divorce is pending in court.

New York laws set forth the presumptive amount of support and its length following divorce. These guidelines, based on the spouses’ income, are presumed to set forth the proper support amount and its duration. But a court may order different amounts if they provide an explanation.

Family Courts usually issue support orders. But the Supreme Court may also order temporary maintenance payments in a divorce. Family Courts can modify or enforce Supreme Court maintenance orders after the divorce’s completion.


Support payments can be modified when there is a substantial change in circumstances and a spouse files a modification petition. If the spouses agreed to the support, a spouse seeking modification must show more than a substantial change.


Courts may impose time limits on maintenance payments. A 2016 law contains a time period formula:

  • Maintenance is expected to last 15 to 30 percent of the length of a 15-year marriage.
  • Maintenance is expected to last 30 to 40 percent of the length of a 15-to-20-year marriage.
  • Maintenance is expected to last 35 to 50 percent of the length of a marriage exceeding 20 years.

Payments end if either spouse dies, or the recipient spouse remarries. Courts may not impose time limitations on support for a current spouse.


Support payments are taxable for orders issued before Dec. 31, 2018. Payments under these orders are taxable income for the support recipient and a deduction for the payer. Child support is not taxable, but unseparated child and spousal support is considered taxable spousal support.

Payments are no longer deductible for the paying spouse and taxable income for the recipient if their cases started or their separation agreements were signed after Dec. 31, 2018.

Health care

Family Courts may also order the continuation of health insurance for a spouse. An automatic order is issued when a divorce is filed preventing either party from changing insurance coverage without court approval.

After divorce, a former spouse usually cannot remain on the family policy. They may be eligible for COBRA coverage for 18 months and a court may order their former spouse to contribute to payments.

Attorneys can assist you with seeking an order that meets your needs. They can also help protect your rights.