Marital Standard of Living

The marital standard of living is the lifestyle enjoyed by the parties during marriage. This includes a consideration of how often they dined out, where the parties shopped for clothes, how much they spent on housing, how large the marital residence is, where the marital residence is located, what type of school the children attend, how often and where the parties vacationed. It is generally not financially feasible for both parties to continue living the same lifestyle apart as they enjoyed together during marriage. This reality becomes a large issue when the court determines the amount, if any, of spousal support.

In re Marriage of Smith describes the marital standard of living as “reasonable needs commensurate with the parties’ general station in life.” This means that if the parties spent above and beyond the income earned each month, the marital spending was unreasonable and may not be basis from which the court determines the marital standard of living. The court may consider actual income earned rather than the amount the parties spent.

Where the supporting spouse has the ability to pay, spousal support will be set at a level that allows both parties to live at the marital standard of living. This scenario is common in modification cases. If one spouse is unable to maintain both at the marital standard of living upon divorce, but later receives a raise, gets a better job, or simply starts to earn much more money, the paid spouse can request a modification. The paid spouse can show the court that now the paying spouse does have the ability to maintain both parties at the marital standard of living and therefore support should be increased. However, if a spousal support award is based on the marital standard of living at the time it is made, the paid spouse is not permitted to enjoy any of the increased earnings of the paying spouse.

The marital standard of living can be a glass ceiling for support. A paying spouse is entitled to move on from the marriage and begin to earn more money without the obligation to share in that new success with the former spouse. However usually upon divorce the supporting spouse cannot maintain two separate households so the original spousal support order is likely under the marital standard of living. Thus, the paid spouse may be entitled to share in the paying spouses new successes but only up to the marital standard of living. Additionally, child support is not limited by the marital standard of living because children are entitled to share in the new successes of their parents post-separation.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.