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What is the Marital Standard of Living?

Posted by Lee Zavatsky | Jan 04, 2023

The marital standard of living (MSOL) is a set of factors defined under California Family Code 4320 that a family law court has to consider when determining spousal support (alimony).

What is the Marital Standard of Living?
The marital standard of living is the lifestyle a couple enjoyed during the length of the marriage.

They are designed to be used as some guidance for judges, not as a rigid definition. For example, family courts are given broad discretion in deciding the marital standard of living and have no rules defining a specific dollar amount.

They will examine all evidence and normally consider three years before separation. The court can consider actual income earned instead of the amount spent.

In some high-asset divorces or high-net-worth people, the marital standard of living examination might require hiring an accountant or a financial expert.

Generally, it's not reasonable for both spouses to continue living the same lifestyle they enjoyed while married. Still, it becomes an issue when the court decides whether to award any spousal support.

The marital standard of living can be described as using the total income for a reasonable period, less taxes. Typically, the family court will use the net income of the community for a three to five period.

Simply put, the marital standard of living is the lifestyle enjoyed by the spouses during the marriage, including the following:

  • Money spent on shopping and dining out,
  • Where they spent their money,
  • Size and cost of the marital home,
  • Where their kids attended school,
  • Where the family spent their vacations,
  • How often they traveled,
  • Financial resources and living costs,
  • Overall lifestyle lived.

When a supporting spouse has the ability to pay, spousal support will be awarded at a monthly amount that allows both of them to live at the marital standard of living. Our California family law lawyers will review this topic further below.

What About Modifying Alimony?

Suppose a spouse cannot maintain the marital standard of living when getting divorced but later gets a better job and more money.

In that case, the spouse receiving spousal support can ask the family court for a modification. They would be required to show the court that the paying spouse has the financial ability to maintain both of them at the marital standard of living and that the support amount should be increased.

However, the paying spouse is allowed to move on with their life after the marriage to earn additional income without having a legal obligation to share it with their now former spouse.

Typically, the spouse paying support can't financially maintain two separate households after a divorce. Thus, the original alimony order will remain the standard of living.

Why Does Standard of Living Matter?

At some point, most people going through divorce proceedings in California will hear the term “standard of living.” But why does this matter in a divorce settlement agreement?

Why Does Standard of Living Matter in Divorce?
Court's will examine the couple's living style.

Almost everyone will live a different lifestyle based on their income and expenses. For example, when couples get divorced, a family court judge will determine the standard of living of both spouses before making decisions about child support or spousal support.

The family law courts define the marital standard of living as the lifestyle enjoyed by the couple during their marriage. It's essentially a measuring tool to protect the spouse with a lower income. 

Suppose one spouse decided to stay home and raise their children rather than pursue a career. In other words, they carried the primary responsibilities for child care during marriage and had little time to devote to career employment and steady income.

In that case, the family court judge will attempt to ensure they are not financially mistreated in a divorce. The court must determine whether the couple getting divorced lived a low-income, middle-class, or wealthy lifestyle, but not a specific dollar amount.  The couple's lifestyle can include their regular restaurants, shopping stores, and where they spend their vacations.

What About the Cost of Two Households?

One of the major issues is when the combined incomes of both spouses do not financially allow them to maintain the same lifestyle because it's much more expensive to keep two households after a divorce.

Suppose the higher-earning spouse does not have the financial ability to cover the costs of two households.

In that case, the family court judge will usually award spousal support (alimony) at a rate that will keep the lower-earning spouse relatively comfortable but perhaps not at the same level enjoyed during the marriage.

Los Angeles Family Law Attorneys
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Further, the court might require the spouses to modify their living standards, such as reducing their daily expenses. Of note is that the courts will not typically make one spouse unfairly suffer financially to support the highly luxurious lifestyle of their ex-spouse.

As noted, If the higher-earning spouse can't financially support the marital standard of living when the divorce occurs, but their finances improve later, then the lower-earning spouse can request a modification from the court.

If approved, the alimony payments could be increased only up to the standard of living when they got divorced, but this does not apply to child support payments.

If you need legal representation in a California divorce or help determine the standard of living, contact our law firm to review the case details and legal options moving forward.

Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles family law and divorce lawyers representing people across Southern California. We offer a free case evaluation via phone or the contact form.

About the Author

Lee Zavatsky

Lee Zavatsky is a partner at Furman & Zavatsky, a law firm dedicated to the practice of Family Law. Mr. Zavatsky has been selected as one of the Top 40 Under 40 by The National Trial Lawyers, a professional organization composed of the top trial lawyers from each state or region who are under the...

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