Alimony and Standard of Living Factor
For alimony, what does the factor “standard of living” during marriage really mean as a factor to determine the amount of alimony?
One of the most disputed and controversial aspects of a dissolution of marriage (divorce), is the type and amount of alimony (spousal support) to be awarded to whichever party deserves the support. This is especially true in what is called “high end” or “high earner” marriages. Sometimes millions of dollars are at stake and, while a couple can, and often do, create their own settlement during a mediation prior to a court hearing (in the state of Florida a pre-court mediation is required), in high earner cases it is almost always the judge who will decide the final outcome of an alimony award. Thus, it is most important to know the factors that go into a case in regards to alimony so a party can reap the greatest benefit.
One of these factors which the law provides for the court to consider when determining alimony is called the Factor of Standard of Living. Attorney Grant Gisondo, a Family Law attorney practicing in Palm Beach Gardens and serving Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, and Hillsborough counties and Washington, DC, has represented many clients seeking alimony during his years of practice and has this to say: ‘this is NOT meant to have alimony be the same standard of living after the marriage as before the divorce. it’s just a factor (not a super factor) the court can consider. ie if you drive a BMW while married it doesn’t mean you will drive a BMW after the marriage” So, what then, does the Standard of Living factor really mean when it comes to determining alimony?
Essentially, the Standard of Living factor takes into consideration the lifestyle and benefits the couple, be they married or in partnership, are used to. In other words, the standard of living the couple is used to over an extended period of time. (While there are situations where a couple suddenly comes into wealth, this is not the general circumstance.) A standard of living can include type of home and style of neighborhood the home is in; the year, make and models of cars, boats, motorcycles, or planes, regularly used for transportation or pleasure; annual expenditures for clothes, jewelry, electronic “gadgets” including i-phones and computers; vacation trips and frequency of “eating out”; cost of participation in their “social circle” including clubs, association fees, and entertaining their peers; and cost of upkeep of properties and lifestyle such as maids, cooks, gardeners, chauffeurs, personal secretaries, and other maintenance personal.
It is highly unlikely both parties will continue to live in exactly the same lifestyle they were accustomed to during marriage or cohabitation, but a judge will take into consideration the Standard of Living factor. This becomes highly important if, for example, one party has basically stayed home to create an environment conducive to high living and social standard and thus has little income of their own. In this case, alimony would help provide sufficient income for the party with little income to maintain a suitable, but not usually the same, standard of living.
Here is where it is truly necessary to see the need for a competent Family Law attorney. He or she will be able to sort out details important for validating actual standard of living and be able to present these in court along with necessary proof of use and costs of that use. An example would be how a couple regularly, over the length of their marriage, took yearly vacations to an expensive resort in Europe, or even in a lower income bracket, took yearly vacations to a rental cabin in the mountains. And, while the cost of a couple’s standard of living plus the family income, is not a mathematical formula, it is an indicator of how the couple lived while together.
A judge must have a place to begin and end in terms of how a couple lived while together and how they might live separately after the final decree. Other factors will, of course, play a part in the judge’s final decision regarding alimony, but the Standard of Living factor will weigh heavily. For more information, if you live in the areas mentioned above, Attorney Grant Gisondo offers an initial, free, in-office consultation where he will meet with you personally to answer questions and share how he can help. Call 561-530-4568 for an appointment.