Spousal Support and the Marital Standard of Living

How do courts determine spousal support? The law could require a spousal support award to merely cover a party’s living expenses so that they do not fall below the poverty line. However, California law does not apply a universal living standard to spousal support determinations. Instead, a spousal support award must attempt to allow the supported spouse to live at the marital standard of living.

California Law on Spousal Support

Courts are required by statute to consider the marital standard of living when ruling on matters involving spousal support. Under California Family Code § 4320, courts must consider several factors when determining issues of spousal support. One of the factors a court must look at for purposes of calculating spousal support obligations includes “[t]he extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage.”

What Is the Marital Standard of Living?

What exactly does § 4320 mean when it mentions “the standard of living established during the marriage,” and how do the parties prove the issue in court? California courts have held the marital standard of living to mean “the station in life the parties had achieved by the date of separation” generally described by an ordinary understanding of socio-economic classifications like “upper, middle or lower income.”

California courts have recognized that many factors contribute to the marital standard of living the parties achieved by the date of separation. The appropriate analysis goes beyond accounting for the items listed on the parties’ post-separation income and expense declarations (FL-150) and comparing them to the parties’ pre-separation income and expenses.

Some of the circumstances courts consider when determining the marital standard of living include several intangible factors, including:

  • The upward mobility of the family
  • Whether the parties lived within their means
  • Certain employment perks and benefits
  • Intangible community contributions to a party’s career advancement

Evidence Demonstrating the Marital Standard of Living

How does one prove that the parties achieved an upper, middle, or lower-income lifestyle? The parties can list their income, assets, expenses, and liabilities on the income and expense declaration form. Furthermore, the parties can provide the court with testimony describing how they lived, the type of vacations they took, the income class of the neighborhood where they lived, and other matters that detail the lifestyle they enjoyed.

Comprehensive Legal Advice

At Family Law San Diego, we are dedicated to helping you reach a just and fair resolution to your family law issues, including divorce. Our attorneys are also prepared to aggressively advocate for your rights and interests in court if necessary. If you need legal advice or representation for a family law issue such as establishing the need for spousal support, you can count on us to help.

Call us at (619) 577-4900 or contact us online for more information.