In California, past cases have held that the marital standard of living is a starting place for all long term spousal support orders. For post-judgment matters, the importance of the marital standard of living usually declines after time has passed from that date of separation. Practically speaking, in most cases, the parties are not going to have enough resources available for payment of support to allow them both to maintain that marital standard of living. The parties now have two households when previously there was one household, however, the income of the parties does not increase. 


How does the court consider the lifestyle of the marriage when awarding Spousal Support?


They must make a reasonable award of support that allows both parties to enjoy a similar lifestyle as each other. This means that one spouse cannot have a better lifestyle while the other spouse is homeless or living out of their car.


If the payer’s income is sufficient to provide the supported spouse with the lifestyle at the marital standard of living and the supported spouse does not have enough assets, income, actual or imputed income, then the court must order sufficient spousal support for that spouse. Generally, they cannot make a support order that is going to enable the payor spouse to live at the marital standard, but leave the supported spouse worse off at the date of separation. 


Depending on the ability to pay, it may mean that the supported spouse is not only entitled to sufficient income to permit him or her to have concrete things that the parties enjoyed during the marriage and entitled to save or invest money, or they’re entitled to a social life of upward mobility or enjoy finer things such as entertainment and marriage, just like the parties did during the marriage. What we are looking at for a marital standard of living is the reasonable needs that were commensurate with the parties general station in life, and that is what prior cases have held.


What factors does the Court consider when looking at the Marital Standard of Living? 


When looking at a spousal support case on all its factors, the marital standard of living is intended to be a general description of the station in life of the parties at the date of separation. The courts look at whether the couple was upper class, middle-class, or in a lower income bracket. The court is going to look at the income of the spouses, not the expenditures because they are not going to base a support award on a case where parties’ debts exceeded their income. The Courts are not going to leave somebody having to continue to accumulate debts to maintain a style that they should not have been able to afford in the first place.


In cases where there’ is a significant amount of income received from bonuses or commissions, the court will generally assign a percentage of those to the supported spouse. They may also consider the separate property assets of both spouses when trying to argue a case on a lifestyle analysis. It is imperative that when using a lifestyle analysis to argue for a spousal support award to have a forensic accountant prepare the analysis when seeking long term spousal support orders, particularly where one of the spouses is a high earner and has significant assets from which they can pay support.


If you have any questions about spousal support or the lifestyle basis in a spousal support award, shoot us an email or give us a call.