Why is Marital Standard of Living Important?
According to North Carolina law, there are a series of factors that a judge is required to consider when deciding whether to award or deny alimony, as well as determining the amount and duration of an alimony award. One of those factors is the parties’ standard of living during the marriage.
In child support cases where the parties’ combined adjusted gross income exceeds $300,000 per year ($25,000 per month), the child support schedule cannot be used, and child support is required to be determined based on the facts of the particular case. The amount of child support awarded should be in such amount as to meet the reasonable needs of the children for health, education and maintenance, with regard given to other pertinent factors, including the incomes and estates of the parties, and the accustomed standard of living of the parties and the minor children.
In general, standard of living refers to the economic and social lifestyle that was established by the parties during their marriage, with particular emphasis placed on the last few years that the marriage was intact. Some examples which illustrate the marital standard of living include the following:
the size and value of the parties’ marital home, including the location and neighborhood;
the parties’ patterns of dining out, including the types of restaurants patronized and the frequency;
the types of memberships the parties maintain, such as country clubs or fitness centers;
how often the parties took vacations, including how often, where they went, and typical accommodations;
the hobbies, recreation and entertainment of the parties and their children;
shopping patterns, e.g. whether the parties shopped at high-end department stores or discount retailers;
whether the parties accumulated savings and other investments;
whether the parties’ children attended private schools;
whether the parties’ children received private tutoring or lessons, such as music and dance;
whether the parties’ children attended summer camps.
Presenting such evidence to the court allows the judge to gain an understanding of the parties’ marital lifestyle. One reason for evaluating the standard of living that was established during the marriage is to determine whether the amount of alimony or child support that a party is seeking is reasonable and necessary. The current expenses being incurred by a dependent spouse seeking alimony, or a party seeking child support outside the guidelines, should correlate with expenses incurred during the marriage for similar purposes. If a party cannot show that his/her/or the child’s current expenses are consistent with those incurred during the marriage for similar purposes, or are otherwise reasonably necessary, a judge may find that the expenses should not be included when deciding the amount of alimony or child support to award.
In cases where the supporting spouse has substantial income and there is the possibility of a high dollar alimony or child support award, there is generally much emphasis placed on the marital standard of living. Judges are accustomed to seeing a party who is seeking alimony or child support attempt to inflate his/her expenses in hopes of receiving a larger award of support, while seeing the party from whom support is being sought attempt to minimize his/her income and/or portray a more frugal marital lifestyle. Regardless of whether you are the party seeking support, or the party from whom support is being sought, it is essential to have an experienced family law attorney representing you and presenting detailed and reliable financial information and documentation on your behalf to ensure that awards of alimony and child support are fair to both parties and to the children.
Standard of living should be evinced in every case where alimony and high income child support are at issue. If the parties were living beyond their means and financing their lifestyle by incurring debt or depleting assets, it is imperative that evidence of such be presented to the court for the judge’s consideration. In situations where the parties’ standard of living was artificially maintained or not sustainable, a judge may place more emphasis on the parties’ incomes and earning potential, and award alimony and child support in such a manner that any disparities between the parties’ incomes and expenses is equitably adjusted.
The family law attorneys at Siemens Family Law Group have the unique skills to provide representation to clients with high net worth. Whether your case involves equitable distribution claims, or you are pursuing or defending high income alimony and child support awards, we can help. Through exceptional knowledge, skill, and attention to detail, we have earned a reputation as one of the top family law firms in Buncombe County.
This article is intended for information purposes only and is not to be considered or substituted as legal advice. This article is based on North Carolina laws in effect at the time of posting.