A recent local court decision serves as a reminder of the importance in carefully drafting the language in divorce agreements as it relates to spousal maintenance. The United States Tax Code uses the term “alimony,” where as New York State has used the term “maintenance” since 1980. Domestic Relations Law directs the Court to consider a multitude of facts when determining the duration and amount of spousal maintenance in appropriate cases. Some of these factors are: the income of the respective parties, age and health of both parties, length of the marriage, and present and future earning capacity of both parties.
In the July 2018 case of Burns v. Burns, (2018 NY Slip Op 05411) which originated in Monroe County before Supreme Court Judge Dollinger, the parties were married in 1992 and ultimately entered into divorce settlement Agreement and Judgment of Divorce in 2008. The Agreement provided that the wife would receive maintenance payments until the year 2020 according to a specific payment schedule. In 2015, the wife remarried, and the husband stopped maintenance payments. Thereafter the wife filed a motion with the Monroe County Supreme Court seeking to hold the husband in contempt for stopping payment and to compel his continued maintenance payments until 2020.
Judge Dollinger denied the wife’s motion in its entirety, holding that, where an Agreement (such as the one in this case) is silent on the issue of remarriage as it related to spousal maintenance, Domestic Relations Law clearly indicates that maintenance shall terminate upon the re-marriage of the payee. This local court decision was appealed by the Wife. The Appellate Division confirmed Judge Dollinger’s decision reiterating, “unless the parties clearly provide otherwise in a divorce settlement agreement, the payor’s obligation to pay maintenance ends upon the remarriage of the payee.”