Why is the Marital Standard of Living Important?

There is no set guideline calculation to determine spousal support, but rather the factors set forth in Family Code section 4320 are evaluated to determine an appropriate amount of support.  Divorce courts have wide discretion in determining the marital standard of living and are not under any obligation to define it by a specific dollar amount.

Family Code section 4320 sets forth 13 factors to be considered by a divorce court in setting spousal support, one of which is the marital standard of living.  While the marital standard of living is an important factor, it is not the controlling factor.

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 did their personal shopping, how much they spent on housing, an evaluation of the marital residence, where the marital residence is located, the type of investments the parties had, and 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.

The marital standard of living has been described as “reasonable needs commensurate with the parties’ general station in life.” In re Marriage of Smith (1990) 225 Cal.App.3d 469.  This means that if the parties spent above and beyond the income earned each month, the marital spending was unreasonable and may not be a basis upon which the court determines the marital standard of living. The court may consider actual income earned rather than the amount the parties spent.  If the supporting spouse has the ability to pay spousal support, it will be set at a level that allows both parties to live at the marital standard of living.

The marital standard of living can be a cap for support.  Usually, upon a divorce, the supporting spouse cannot maintain two separate households, so the original spousal support order is likely set under the marital standard of living.

If you have any questions about your divorce and spousal support, contact Dias Law Firm, Inc. to set up a consultation.  Our knowledgeable attorneys and staff are ready to assist you with your legal matter.  

By: Vanessa M. Freitas, Certified Law Clerk

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