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How Does 'Standard of Living' Impact Spousal Support?

For the average couple going through a divorce, the notion of maintaining the same standard of living post divorce is nothing more than wishful thinking. Courts have long since recognized that a married couple enjoys certain financial advantages when cohabitating that vanish after a divorce, particularly that the couple only has to manage one household’s expenses.

When a couple divorces, spouses usually stop cohabitating, which means each spouse must now pay rent or make a house payment. The cost-savings of shared expenses vanish, which almost certainly will cause both former spouses to live below their prior standard of living. However, there are situations where a couple’s marital standard of living will have an impact on an award of alimony or spousal support.

Standard of Rich Living

While divorces of the rich and famous often make headlines as one spouse receives a large alimony award to provide for maintaining the standard of living they became accustomed to during the marriage, this is not the norm for most people. The court will not and cannot award more than a couple actually has. Generally, the standard of living factor will be most significant when there is a large disparity in income, which is frequently seen among the rich and famous.

If a couple’s joint marital income was $100,000 per year, and it is split in divorce, then each former spouse receives only $50,000 per year. There is no way that the same standard of living can be maintained by either spouse on half the income.

Artificial Standard of Living

Frequently, courts do consider a couple’s standard of living during divorce when the couple was living either above or below their means. When a couple has been living above their means, that usually means that the couple was taking on debt over time to finance their living expenses. In these situations, a court will not force one or both spouses to continue going into debt to finance the above means lifestyle.

If a couple was living below their means, they may have been aggressively saving their incomes, or investing in personal development for future benefits (such as investing in education). In these situations, a court may adjust alimony, or provide reimbursement alimony, to reflect the sacrifices a spouse had to make while waiting for the future benefits of the savings or education.

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