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Measuring the Standard of Living in California Alimony Cases – In re Marriage of Shine

One of the main purposes of alimony, or spousal support, is to help divorcing spouses continue to enjoy the standard of living that they had during the marriage. So it’s no surprise that courts try to gauge that standard of living when deciding whether and how much support to award. A recent case out of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals is an example of how judges make that determination.

dollar billHusband and Wife separated in 2005, following more than 16 years of marriage. The trial judge handling the divorce proceedings concluded that Husband and Wife had a working-class lifestyle during the course of the marriage. The court noted in particular that the couple owned a modest home, cars, and a truck and that Husband and Wife didn’t seem to do any extensive traveling or extravagant entertaining. The court also observed that Wife was bringing in a little more than $1,000 a month in her job as a day care instructor. She had some limits on her ability to work, however, due to a plate in her neck. Husband, on the other hand, was earning about $5,700 a month as a mechanic and owned a brownstone in New York that he’d inherited.

The trial court ultimately ordered Husband to pay Wife $1,000 a month in spousal support. It based that decision on the length of the marriage, the couple’s working-class lifestyle, and Wife’s limited ability to work. Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said the trial judge’s conclusions were supported by the evidence.

Section 4320 of the California Family Code lays out a number of factors that judges are expected to take into account in considering a request for spousal support. These factors include the spouse’s individual earning capacities and whether those earning capacities would allow them to keep up the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. Courts are also expected to look into whether one spouse contributed to the other’s education and training during the marriage, as well as the needs, age, and health of each spouse, the length of the marriage, and “any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.” As the court explained, the marital standard of living is considered a reference point against which the other factors should be weighed.

In this case, the Fourth District found that the evidence supported the trial judge’s finding that the couple had a working-class lifestyle. It also rejected Husband’s claim that the court should have imputed income to Wife or treated her as capable of making more money. Although the Fourth District acknowledged that there had been some credibility issues at trial, it said “there was nothing inherently unbelievable about [Wife]’s testimony about the neck plate or her efforts to find work.”

If you’re considering divorce or are grappling with spousal support and other related issues in California, contact San Jose spousal support attorney John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve a wide variety of marital disputes. Call our office at (408) 297-0700 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

Related blog posts:

Getting Divorced in California? Another Reason Why You Need a Lawyer – In re Marriage of Hendrix

Valuing a Spouse’s Business in California Divorce Cases – In re Marriage of Caldwell

Retirement Income and Spousal Support – In re Marriage of McKarus