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In a maintenance determination, what amount of earnings is necessary to enable the recipient to become self-supporting? Lorenz v. Lorenz, 881 N.Y.S.2d 208 (N.Y. App. Div. 2009)


In divorce cases, the primary purpose of awarding one party to pay another party maintenance is to provide the receiving party temporary financial support to give them time to become self-sufficient. During the support period, the receiving party is expected to finish school or complete other training so that they would have the skills necessary to get a job and support themselves. In Lorenz v. Lorenz, Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, was asked to the amount of time and amount of money is necessary to help enable the receiving party to become self-sufficient.

Defendant William Lorenz and Plaintiff Pamela Lorenz were married for 33 years. Pamela filed a petition for divorce. Both parties were 54 years of age. At the time of the divorce, Williams’s income was over $100,000, and Pamela’s income was $20,000.  William was in good health, but Pamela had back problems that affected her work as a hairdresser. The Supreme Court of New York, taking into account the couple’s standard of living prior to divorce, awarded Pamela $500 per week in maintenance from William until such time as Pamela can draw full Social Security benefits, apparently when she becomes 66. William appealed.

On appeal, William argued that the amount and duration of the maintenance payments he was ordered to pay to Pamela were excessive.  He argued that Pamela was perfectly able to be self-supporting.

In reviewing the testimony of both parties and joint tax returns submitted, the records showed that in 2006 William made over $100,000 while Pamela made around $20,000.  In addition, William was in good health, while Pamela suffered from both back issues and heart problems.  Both of those medical issues impacted Pamela’s ability to work and earn money as a self-employed hairdresser.  Furthermore, early in their marriage, while William was building a lucrative career, Pamela spent much of her time tending to the needs of their children and the family’s domestic needs.

The court found that even though the goal of maintenance is to provide temporary support while the recipient develops the skills and experience necessary to become self-sufficient, self-sufficiency is not always possible. Here, the lower court concluded that Pamela’s potential to become self-sufficient was very low. The Appellate Division agreed.

In concluding that $500 per week was an appropriate amount, the court looked at William’s income and found that amount of the maintenance award was within the defendant’s means . The Appellate Division noted that the Supreme Court did not require William to fully support Pamela. The court required that Pamela pay for her own health insurance and that she either purchase William’s half of the marital residence or find a new place to live. Accordingly, the Appellate Division concluded that  the amount set by the court of $500 per week was an abuse of discretion.

Thus, in determining the appropriate amount of maintenance, the court will consider the standard of living the couple had become accustomed to, the amount of income of the paying parting, the ability of the receiving party to become self-sufficient, and the amount of time that it would take for that party to become self-sufficient.

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