Spousal Maintenance is one of the most difficult issues in a divorce case. I attended a seminar some time ago with five judges on the panel. They were provided the same set of facts and told to determine an appropriate Spousal Maintenance award. When the results were in, they ranged from no award to an award of $3000 a month for seven years. To the extent it’s difficult to predict, in Spousal Maintenance cases it is more important to look very seriously at settling the issue as opposed to leaving it in the Court’s hands.
When dealing with Spousal Maintenance, the first thing the Court must look at is whether one spouse is entitled to Spousal Maintenance. There are statutory factors the Court must consider whether to award Spousal Maintenance. These factors include whether the spouse has been awarded sufficient property to provide for his or her needs, whether he or she is able to be self-sufficient through appropriate employment, whether one spouse has contributed to the educational opportunities of the other spouse and whether the marriage is of long duration and the spouse is of an age which may preclude the possibility of gaining self sufficient employment. In order to award Spousal Maintenance the Court must make at least one of these findings. If the marriage is of very short duration or if both spouses are capable of earning enough to support themselves then generally there will not be an award Spousal Maintenance.
The second thing the Court must determine is the length and amount of the Spousal Maintenance award. There are 13 factors that the Court must consider in determining the answer to that question. They center around the duration of the marriage, the earnings and earning ability of each spouse and the financial resources available for the support of each spouse. There are a few other factors, but these very rarely come into play. The presentation of a Spousal Maintenance case often involves admission of complicated financial documents to prove income and expenses. It often involves looking at the earnings history of each party and whether one party has sacrificed his or her earning potential for the benefit of the marriage. In fact, a successful presentation may also involve providing the Court with expert testimony as to any medical condition which may affect one party’s ability to earn a living or occupational experts who can testify as to the earning ability of a spouse. Often the presentation of the Spousal Maintenance case is the most difficult part of trial, but it is often the most important. If a spouse needs Spousal Maintenance it is critical that spouse receive an appropriate and fair amount. Defending against a Spousal Maintenance claim is equally important in that an attorney must present compelling evidence as to the earning potential of both parties, as well as the often limited financial resources of the party from whom maintenance is sought. Obviously such an important task requires the services of an experienced, competent trial attorney.
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