How do courts determine spousal maintenance payments?

With your divorce agreement, you must pay spousal maintenance. It is not the amount of the payments you focus on; it is how the court calculates payments.

Forbes provides several factors that determine maintenance payments. Know which parts of your income courts consider when making such decisions.

Typical considerations

All recurring passive income, employment compensation and other types of earned income factor into spousal maintenance payments. That means partnership distributions, salary, carried interest, signing/performance bonuses and employee perks. Expect the court to examine your recent federal income tax returns, but know that it may look for money you do not report.

Extra considerations

Going beyond earned income, courts often factor in income potential when determining spousal maintenance payments. For instance, you may have an MBA from a prestigious business school, but your current position may not match the caliber or pay grade of a graduate of such an affluent school. If you once had an income that matches your educational background, the court may determine your spousal maintenance payments from that number rather than your current income.

Maybe besides your regular job, you also receive substantial regular financial support from your family. If so, the court also considers this when determining maintenance payments.

Tax considerations

You have a degree of control over spousal maintenance payments. If you know you have an upcoming bonus or an especially profitable year ahead, file all necessary divorce paperwork ASAP before that income comes in. On the other hand, maybe you anticipate a less lucrative year. In that case, dragging your feet a bit in filing for divorce may work in your favor.

Several factors determine how much you can anticipate paying for spousal maintenance. Use the above information to your advantage moving forward.