Spousal Support in New York Family Court

  1. What is spousal support?

    Spousal support is an amount of money that the court orders one spouse to pay to the other spouse for his or her reasonable needs. Spousal support may be ordered even when spouses reside together.

    In New York State a married person may be legally responsible to provide for the support of his or her spouse during their marriage, if that spouse lacks sufficient income or assets to provide for his or her own reasonable needs.

  2. Who can get spousal support?

    If you are legally married and are not being reasonably supported by your spouse, you can request spousal support from Family Court.

  3. Can I get spousal support if I am not legally married but am or was in a long term relationship?

    No. The obligation to pay spousal support only applies to people who are legally married. Long-term relationships (more commonly referred to as “common law marriages”), in which parties live together and hold themselves out as a husband and wife, are not legally recognized in New York State. This means that couples in this type of relationship do not acquire marital rights or responsibilities simply by living together for a particular period of time, and thus are not entitled to request spousal support.

  4. Can I get spousal support if I am in a same-sex marriage?

    Yes. Same-sex marriages became legal in New York State on July 24, 2011, under the Marriage Equality Act. The Marriage Equality Act grants same-sex couples automatic access to all of the privileges and protections granted to spouses under state and local laws. This includes the right to request spousal support.

  5. Can I get spousal support if I receive cash public assistance?

    No. If you receive cash public assistance from the Department of Social Services (DSS), which, in New York City, is called the Human Resources Administration, you have signed your right to collect spousal support directly from your spouse over to DSS.

    This is because the public assistance grant that you are receiving from DSS is intended to provide for your support and reasonable needs. Therefore, any money that your spouse may be ordered to pay for your support will be paid directly to DSS to reimburse that agency for the cash grant you are receiving each month.

  6. Can I get spousal support if I am working?

    Yes. You may be able to get spousal support even if you are working if you demonstrate to the court that your wages and assets are inadequate to meet your reasonable needs, and the court determines that your spouse can afford to pay spousal support.

  7. What steps must I take to get spousal support?

    You can start a case for spousal support by filing a petition with the New York State Family Court. A petition is a form that provides the court with some background information about you (the petitioner) and your spouse (the respondent), and informs the court what your are requesting and why.

    There is a Family Court in each county. The petition may be filed in the county where you or your spouse reside. There is no cost to start a case for spousal support.

  8. Do I need a lawyer for a spousal support case?

    No. Although it is helpful to have a lawyer, you do not need a lawyer for a spousal support case. The Family Court process is designed for people who do not have lawyers. Family Court has special clerks on staff to help people fill out the support petition and file the case.

    • Your reasonable needs (such as housing, food, clothing, medical care, education, and other reasonable needs and expenses);
    • The financial ability of your spouse to provide the spousal support;
    • Whether you can pay for what you need; and,
    • Length of the marriage.

  9. How long will spousal support continue?

    Since the law requires spouses to support one another for as long as they are married, the court should not limit the length of time that spousal support is to be paid.

    However, the court can change the amount of spousal support or terminate it if there is a change in circumstances affecting you or your spouse. For instance, this can happen if your spouse loses his or her job and can no longer afford to pay spousal support, or if you obtain employment and your wages are sufficient to meet your reasonable needs.

    Spousal support will also end if your spouse dies. If you divorce, spousal support will end and may be replaced by maintenance/alimony.

(August 2013)