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State alimony formula could change after commission review

The 2010 New York no-fault divorce law includes a disputed formula that calculates temporary alimony. Opponents of the current law do not argue with the need for blameless divorce but criticize the alimony formula as unfair to wealthier spouses forced to pay spousal support.

Income disparity between divorcing spouses was the impetus for the temporary alimony formula. The formula was designed to correct a lack of uniformity among judges and financially protect vulnerable, lower-income spouses.

Some legal analysts say the same law that watches out for the poor is bankrupting richer spouses who pay spousal maintenance.

The state's Law Revision Commission is studying the no-fault divorce law. The commission will make non-binding recommendations this spring that could influence how lawmakers feel.

Before the initiation of the no-fault divorce law in New York, judges had more freedom to set spousal support guidelines. The institution of formula-based temporary alimony gave judges less wiggle room. A judge who wants to rule outside the formula is required to author a written explanation, something over-burdened judges have little time to do.

Spousal salaries are the primary ingredient in determining how much support is paid.

Opponents of the law as it stands say well-off spouses, whose income can be based on a complex calculation, are hurt by the formula. Complaints say the law is too rigid and not reflective of large shifts of true income for highly-paid spouses.

Lawmakers are calling for calm from critics who want the alimony restrictions loosened and formula-proponents who say the guideline is needed. Several legislators say the formula within the no-fault divorce law was set up as an experiment and will change as its flaws become apparent.

The eyes of spouses, critics, proponents and lawmakers are on the findings of the Law Review Commission, due in April. Every party with an opinion on the temporary alimony formula wants a fair solution that covers the divorce of spouses at every income level.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Divorce Law's New Cut," Sophia Hollander, March 12, 2012

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