How Standard of Living Matters for Divorce

Two stacks of coinsDuring a marriage, the parties work together for the common goal of building their future, both emotionally and financially.  Depending on their particular incomes, asset availability, and the types of goals they have set, they will follow a particular standard of living.  When a relationship ends and the parties are going through a divorce, there are many financial issues that come to the forefront, including this standard of living.

The reason standard of living is relevant in divorces is for the purpose of determining spousal maintenance.  During a divorce proceeding, one party may request spousal maintenance in order to help maintain the standard of living that they enjoyed during the marriage.  Unlike child support, there is no pre-determined formula for a court to set spousal maintenance.  Instead, the court will look to a wide variety of factors.  These factors include each party’s ability to earn income in the future, the amount of education necessary to raise one party’s earning ability, and whether one party has traditionally been the stay-at-home spouse.  The goal of spousal maintenance is to assist an economically disadvantaged spouse to help maintain the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage, to a reasonable degree.  The statute also repeatedly refers to the standard of living that the parties established during their marriage, as well as before the parties physically separated.  The parties will both need to provide a list of expenses in a case where one spouse is requesting spousal maintenance.  The reasonableness of these expenses is measured against the standard of living that the parties enjoyed during the marriage.  For example, if the parties lived a lavish lifestyle that included high mortgage payments and frequent vacations, then listing those expenses on an expense statement submitted to the court may be considered reasonable.  New lavish expenses, however, such as extra spa trips or large car purchases could be ruled out as unreasonable.  The court will look at the reasonableness of these expenses in conjunction with the other spousal maintenance factors, including each party’s income, and decide what amount of spousal support is appropriate to assist the economically disadvantaged spouse to maintain an approximately equal standard of living.

Spousal maintenance is a highly fact-dependent inquiry and each case is different.  We have extensive experience in speaking with our clients about spousal maintenance and helping to evaluate their cases.