Can Standard of Living Be Part of Spousal Support?

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Divorce, Maintenance, Modification, and Motion to Modify on Tuesday, August 5, 2014

California attorney Fred Silberberg recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post describing the need to take the standard of living of a couple into account in arriving at a spousal support award.  Does Missouri allow a court to consider the standard of living in awarding maintenance?  If so, in what way?

Standard of living itself is a vague term that the parties should help define for their own particular lives.  Does it include paying for a three-bedroom ranch or eight-bedroom mansion?  Does it include country club memberships and month-long summer vacations?  What about clothing allowances and other perks?  Without clear definition, standard of living defaults to an imagined lifestyle associated with a given income or status.

Interestingly, before the legislature passed the current Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act (UDMA), Missouri gave greater weight to standard of living, similar to the law now in California – that a greater earning spouse had a duty to maintain the standard of living for the lesser earning spouse. After the UDMA, the issue of standard of living only comes into play if the spouse cannot meet his or her reasonable needs through proper employment and the marital share of property – and even at that point, it is only one of multiple factors the court must consider.

While Missouri favors self-sufficiency and disfavors long-term maintenance, the nature of the marriage could support such an award in part because the very nature of the marriage allowed for and helped create the standard of living.  Or, the parties may enter a separation agreement that provides for sufficient spousal support to maintain a particular standard of living.

While California does have different law on this issue, Silberberg made a key point that applies in Missouri:  a party paying spousal support should seek to quantify the standard of living in a separation agreement or the Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage to serve as a cap on maintenance.  In this way, if incomes change over time, the party paying support has a baseline amount for standard of living that precludes in essence a “luxury tax” for the receiving spouse in the event that spouse has escalating tastes or the paying spouse has increased income.  A quantified standard of living helps drive the statutory demand to focus on meeting reasonable needs.  Changes in income alone do not warrant changes in maintenance; only an established change in reasonable needs triggers a modification.  And on the flip side, quantifying standard of living protects the spouse receiving support in future modifications by making explicit what the paying spouse should be covering.

If you have questions about standard of living and maintenance, contact us – we can help.