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How ‘standard of living’ factors in to high-income divorces

When divorce becomes a reality, couples are faced with determining which party will receive maintenance (alimony) and at what amount. There are many factors that go into the decision, of which “standard of living” is only one.

Some people believe the purpose of spousal maintenance is for the receiving spouse to maintain their standard of living established prior to the divorce, especially in high-income, long-term marriages. While that is one factor, it is only one of many.

Types of alimony

There are three types of alimony in Maryland:

Alimony pendent lite is awarded before the divorce is final and is meant to maintain the status quo until the end of the legal process

Rehabilitative alimony is limited to a specific time and goal, such as a return to school

Indefinite alimony has no specific endpoint and is awarded if the spouse can’t make reasonable progress toward being self-supporting or the standard of living between the spouses is “unconscionably disparate.”

In most cases, it’s not necessary for a judge to determine alimony because the couple will come to an agreement on their own.

But when the court does have to make a decision, a judge has latitude to determine what constitutes the standard of living – one judge may believe country club dues are a reasonable expense, another may not.

What factors does a judge consider?

In some cases, a judge may consider each spouse’s salary over a period. After arriving at a sum, the judge will determine a monthly amount and base alimony on that figure.

Another method will be to look at expenditures. After excluding one-time costs, the court can come up with what the couple spends to maintain their lifestyle, then divide by two to get a number for each spouse.

Other factors include:

  • The spouse’s ability to be self-supporting
  • The time necessary to get training or education to be self-supporting
  • The duration of the marriage
  • Non-monetary contributions by both parties
  • The age, physical condition and mental condition of both spouses

In most cases, the judge will award alimony as a percentage of the dominant earner’s income for a set period.

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