Supreme Court, Monroe County
Lehning v. Lehning
Background: Both parties had brought motions regarding a consent order requiring the husband to pay maintenance. The maintenance order was dated 2009 and the husband owed more than $26,000 in unpaid maintenance for failure to pay for 18 months. The court granted the wife’s motion awarding her arrears for the unpaid maintenance.
However, when the wife submitted the order to the court, she asserted a claim for prejudgment interest on the amount of the unpaid maintenance. Counsel for the husband argued that prejudgment interest is not an appropriate award and moreover, the wife had failed to request such interest in her original papers.
Ruling: The court ordered that the wife must compute the interest on each missed payment and when that amount is tallied, the court will sign an order incorporating the prejudgment interest into the arrears for the unpaid maintenance.
The court reasoned that the prevailing policy in New York is that interest must be added in actions where a person is deprived of the use of money if the plaintiff is to be made whole. In the matrimonial context, prejudgment interest is available if the failure to pay is willful. The court found that the husband’s failure to pay was willful as he made no payments and never moved for relief for a period in excess of 16 months.
The court rejected the husband’s argument that the interest on maintenance payments ought to have been included as part of the usual “prayer for relief” contained in the wife’s motion papers. The case law cited by the court held that prejudgment interest is always available despite the lack of a demand for the same. In the context of a matrimonial action, the prejudgment interest is available as the wife had been deprived of the use of money rightfully owed to her.
Sharon P. Stiller for the plaintiff; Ronald T. Bircher for the defendant