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Determining Long Term Spousal Support: Standard of Living

Guiding You Through Difficult Times

When it comes to long-term spousal support, Family Code § 4320 is the guiding light.  This is the section that lists the mandatory factors family law courts must consider when determining long-term spousal support.

Family law judges do not simply determine spousal support by reference to one factor or another.  They must weigh and apply all of the factors stated in Family Code § 4320.  Any spousal support order not reflecting a weighing of these statutory factors is subject to reversal for abuse of discretion.

Family Code § 4320(d), which considers: “The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage,” is probably the most indeterminate statutory factor the family law judges must weigh and apply in each case.

The case of Marriage of Smith (1990) 225 Cal.App.3d 469 supplies the generally accepted guidelines for marital standard of living.  It held the marital standard of living to mean:

“…the general station in life enjoyed by the parties during their marriage.  The Legislature did not intend it to be a precise mathematical calculation, but rather a general reference point for the trial court in deciding this issue.”

There are two general approaches to quantifying the marital standard of living.  They are:

  1. Expenditure based, and
  2. Income based.

The expenditure based approach considers all spending records (cash and credit) for the last few years of marriage and categorically summarizes the spending.

The income based approach requires relatively few documents and both its strengths and weaknesses are attributable to simplicity.  The income base approach summarizes historical tax returns and assumes that all after-tax dollars are subsequently consumed.  In other words, all available dollars are either spent, saved, or invested.

Based on the case of Marriage of Weinstein (1991) 4 Cal.App.4th 555, this approach is the preferred method when the parties lived beyond their means.  Or, in other words, when the marital standard of living was subsidized by credit.

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