The standard used by the courts in California to determine spousal support payment amounts is designated by the California Family Law Code as Marital Standard of Living (MSOL). Marital Standard of Living is considered by the courts to be a general description of the financial place in life the parties achieved as of their date of separation.
Case law succinctly states that Marital Standard of Living is determined by the expenditures of the parties during the marriage. The courts hold this true in all but a few special circumstances, such as when the parties are living beyond their means. In such cases, a court may award the amount of spousal support based on income.
Unfortunately, it is often difficult to calculate MSOL due to a lack of accurate data being available, and it can be time consuming and costly to have the financial data reconstructed. Thus, in such cases, you will need to determine whether it is best to have the financial data pieced together or have the Court determine the MSOL based solely on testimony and summary information.
Certainly, in many cases, you can accurately estimate financial conclusions based on readily obtainable sources. This is due to the fact that marital expenditures usually correspond with the spouses’ reported taxable incomes and the courts do accept the spouse’s incomes as a valid measure of marital expenditures. On the other hand, if the financial issues are complex and, for example, a business valuation is required, consulting with a Forensic Accountant may be your best option.
Maintaining the Accustomed Lifestyle
Whether or not you regularly consult with a Forensic Accountant concerning the determination of Marital Standard of Living, you need to remain up-to-date concerning what California courts consider as evidence of MSOL. Valid examples include:
- Ownership of family homes
- Rental properties
- Vacation homes
- Vehicles owned (cars, boats, RVs, etc.)
- Vacations (locations, durations, frequency, etc.)
- Investment accounts and employee benefits
- Debts and outstanding loans
- Social activities and memberships in organizations
- Charitable contributions
- Gifts and inheritances received prior to and during the marriage
- Personal property (furniture, jewelry, art, etc.).
In addition to these, the courts will take into account the following in determining the extent to which the earning capacity of each party is enough to maintain the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage:
- How long the couple was married
- The ability of the supported party to be employed, as well as potential earnings
- Whether the supported party’s current or future earnings has diminished due to periods of unemployment
- Whether the supported party contributed to the education of the supporting party and how much
- The age, health and medical needs of the parties
- The capability of the supporting party to pay spousal support based on earned income, unearned income, assets and earning capacity.
It is the Court’s intention to award the amount of spousal support that will best enable each party to maintain a standard of living as close as possible to what the parties enjoyed during their marriage. Furthermore, it is not the Court’s intention to award a level of
spousal support that will allow one party to enjoy a superior standard of living in comparison to what the parties enjoyed during their marriage, regardless of the circumstances that caused the divorce.