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November 21, 2015
There’s No More “Lifestyle to Which You’ve Become Accustomed.”

It amazes me, in this day and age, to hear so many women clinging to the belief that their future ex-husband must support them in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. While not precisely an urban myth, for most of society[1], it might as well be.

The legal standard for spousal support (or alimony) was, once upon a time, “the lifestyle to which one has become accustomed.” That was before the “No Fault” divorce laws went into effect in California in the 1970’s. For the past 45 years, the Courts have had to do more of a balancing act between the “marital standard of living” as one factor to be considered, and the supporting spouse’s ability to pay as another, very relevant factor. One significant development is that the Courts have recognized that both spouses – not just one – have a right to live as near as possible to the marital standard of living. Thus, at least at the beginning of a divorce case, the same amount of money that supported one household has to be divided to support two households. There’s no possible way either party will be at “the marital standard of living” under that circumstance.

Currently there are conflicting statutes on this issue: one, which says a spouse has a duty to support the other until remarriage, death of either party or order of the court[2]; and the other, which states a supported spouse has a “duty to make good faith efforts to become self-supporting.[3]” The state of the law on this issue even allows the Courts to reduce support to a non-working or under-employed spouse, once it is shown that he or she has “failed to make good faith efforts to become self-supporting.”

Another common complicating factor of which you should be aware is that, if your future ex is currently working two jobs, the Courts cannot require anyone to continue to work extreme or excessive hours in order to support their ex at the marital standard of living. Your ex can quit the second job, the excessive overtime, and you can be stuck with a support order based on the decreased gross amount he or she is bringing home at the time of the hearing.

A further development we regularly see at Hartley Lamas Et Al is that many times, the woman is the high-earning member of the community and is therefore ordered to pay spousal support to the husband. This is becoming increasingly common, particularly as women are entering professional positions in the work force at a higher rate than men over the past 15 years.

The lifestyle to which you have become accustomed, quite simply, ceases to exist the day you file for dissolution of marriage, unless you are extraordinarily wealthy – and even then, that lifestyle generally has to be readjusted for the duration of the divorce.

For these reasons, and many more, anyone contemplating divorce should definitely meet with counsel first. At a minimum, find out what level of support – how much support you should receive in terms of dollars, not percentages – you are likely to receive or pay to your future ex-spouse.

[1] Excluding the super-wealthy, of course.

[2] Family Code Sections 4330-4336.

[3] Family Code Section 4320.

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