Q. What is meant by the words "marital standard of living" in
In California lawyers in high earner dissolution cases often speak of Marital
Standard of Living (MSOL or MSL). This is often the case for our clients
in Palm Springs, Indian Wells, and Palm Desert. It is a very important
element to determining spousal support/alimony obligations and entitlements.
It works to place both a floor and a ceiling on the range of potential
When a court orders permanent spousal support in favor of an unemployed,
home-making, or lower earner spouse or domestic partner it must base its
decision in part upon the standard of living achieved during the marriage
or partnership. This legislative admonition is referenced in
California Family Code section 4330 and
section 4320. The MSL is not the final factor, but it is the starting point. It references
the general station in life the parties enjoyed during their marriage,
along with all surrounding circumstances including vacations and other
quality of life indicators. The court must also consider all the other
factors set forth in
Family Code section 4320 as well. These are discussed in my various websites, and you might want
to try our search engine at the upper right because it includes all my
writings on any subject I have written about and you can peruse my other
The MSOL is not a mathematical formula, but must be determined for each
couple. It can be determined based upon the parties' average income
over time - and also from what they spent. But it can include any factor
specific to any couple's living history.
Courts have broad discretion to award spousal support in greater or lesser
sums than what the supported spouse requires to maintain the marital standard
of living - which is why it is really important to hire a competent matrimonial
lawyer. Endless variations are possible, but only if your attorney really
understands how to describe them, and also understands how to utilize
4320 factors and present them to the court - sometimes with expert testimony or evidence.
Frankly this is not likely to happen without an attorney who exclusively
practices family law and has been at it for a substantial while.
A spouse or domestic partner's high income will be considered in terms
of their ability to pay support, but the need of the supported spouse
will also be evaluated. Issues arise when people live beyond their means
- for instance, where a high earner is able to live a higher standard
of living than the marital standard of living.
It is often the case with older couples that the family's standard
of living was low when compared to the income stream that passed through
during the marriage - perhaps the parties did not spend, but saved.
In such cases the court may set spousal support at an amount higher than
the parties' actual standard of living. If the parties saved and invested
and developed assets during the marriage, but spent little on living expenses,
the supported spouse may be entitled to continue that savings by being
supplemented with alimony.
T.W. Arnold, III, C.F.L.S.