Solving Complex Family Law Issues with Creative Strategies

Why Does Standard of Living Matter in Divorce?

If you’re undergoing divorce proceedings in California, you’re certain to hear the term “Standard of Living.” But what does standard of living mean, and why does it matter to your divorce agreement?

Because we all live different lifestyles with a wide variety of incomes and expenses, there is no set amount of child or spousal support owed from one person to another after a divorce. Instead, a judge must determine the standard of living of both parties in a divorce case before making a decision regarding support.

How Do Courts Define Marital Standard of Living?

During divorce proceedings, the marital standard of living (MSOL) a couple enjoyed during their marriage becomes a tool for measurement in order to ensure that the party in the marriage who was the lower income earner — particularly one who bore the highest burden of childcare and domestic duties and thus had less time to devote to career-building — doesn’t suffer unduly after a divorce. In broadest terms, the California courts must determine whether a divorcing couple lived low-income, middle-class, or wealthy lifestyles. Courts aren’t obligated to describe a specific dollar amount but more often describe MSOL in terms such as med-high or high. The lifestyle enjoyed by both parties in the marriage, including how often they traveled, dined in restaurants and shopped for new clothes qualifies for consideration, as well as the size and value of their home.

The difficulty arises when a couple’s combined income and assets don’t allow for both parties to continue living the lifestyle they’re accustomed to because two households are more costly to maintain than one.

What Standard of Living Means to You

If the top supporting spouse does have the ability to pay for two households, a judge will likely set spousal support at a level that keeps the lower income earner comfortable in the manner they’ve become accustomed to during the marriage. If the higher-earning partner cannot afford to maintain both lifestyles at the accustomed standard of living, then the court may require adjustments to the living standards of both parties. Adjustments may include downsizing expenses. California courts do not expect one party to suffer unduly in order to support the unnecessarily luxurious lifestyle of the other.

In some cases, courts define the marital standard of living in terms of dollar amount rather than lifestyle. In this case, they refer to an after-tax dollar amount that the couple spent per month during the three years prior to their divorce filing.

How Does Standard of Living Apply Going Forward After Divorce?

If the higher-earning partner in a marriage is financially unable to support the other at the marital standard of living at the time of the divorce but later improves their financial situation through increased earnings, the lower-wage earner may ask for a new negotiation in court. The court may increase spousal support payments only up to the amount considered the standard of living at the time of divorce and not beyond that standard. In other words, the higher earner has a right to enjoy new success without the obligation to share it with a former spouse.

It’s important to note that this isn’t the case with child support. The court considers children entitled to benefit from the increased success of the parent.

If you need assistance in determining the standard of living in your divorce case a qualified, experienced San Francisco divorce attorney can help.