The marital standard of living is the template for the parties post-divorce lifestyle. Alimony is paid from one party to the other to attempt to maintain this marital standard of living post-divorce. The key document in establishing the marital standard of living is the Family Part Case Information Statement (CIS). The CIS is a nine page financial statement which details the income, assets and liabilities of both parties. The key pages which establish the marital standard of living are pages 5 and 6. Page 5 deals with marital shelter expenses, and transportation expenses. Page 6 deals with personal expenses. All expenses are calculated on a monthly basis. The cumulative sum of the expenses on Pages 5 and 6 of the CIS represents the marital standard of living. The difference between the supported spouse’s income and their post-divorce needs, to maintain the marital standard of living, is the amount that should be made up with alimony. The CIS has two columns. One column reflects the marital standard of living the second column reflects the post marital standard of living.
Problems with Using the CIS to Determine the Marital Standard of Living
One problem with using the CIS to determine expenses for alimony calculations is that the CIS includes expenses which are child related. For example, if there are children of the marriage a portion of the shelter expenses are attributable to housing the children. If you have two children you will need a 2 or 3 bedroom residence, whereas if there are no children a 1 bedroom may be sufficient living space. When you have children all personal expenses listed on the CIS will be increased. Similarly, expenses listed on the CIS such as: school lunch, camps. children’s lessons, babysitting, daycare expenses, are 100% child-related. In order to avoid double dipping the child related CIS expenses should be removed from the CIS total as these expenses should be covered by child support not spousal support/alimony. The problem is that there is no clear cut way to separate these expenses, so in each case the expenses have to be scrutinized and broken down.
One of the more interesting questions is at what point in the marriage is the marital standard of living calculated? If the couple has gone through lean years for most of their marriage and then they have a recent burst of prosperity is the marital standard of living averaged out over the years? The simple answer is no. What the courts will do is examine the most recent years of the marriage. In a situation where a couple goes from lean years to prosperous years just before the divorce, the prosperous years will be used for the marital standard of living. Similarly, where a couple goes from years of high living to years of barely scraping by the most recent years will be used as the marital standard of living.
A somewhat similar question arises in the situation where the parties have separated but remain married. Is the marital standard of living the pre-separation standard of living or the post-separation standard of living? The answer to this question depends on the particular facts and circumstances of the case, e.g., were the parties sharing expenses post-separation or had each established an independent lifestyle of their own? Another question that comes up quite often is what if a couple lives far below their means? If their household income is $18,000 a month and they live at a $10,000 a month lifestyle their marital standard of living will be based on their lifestyle and expenses not on their income.
Recent Changes to Marital Standard of Living Inquiry
When Governor Christie signed legislation in August 2014 changing the alimony law in New Jersey probably the biggest change was in the new requirement that the supporting spouse’s standard of living be taken into account in determining the amount of alimony to be paid. Prior to the recent legislative changes the primary focus in an alimony inquiry was on the supported spouse’s post-divorce standard of living. The new law requires that both parties standards of living be taken into equal consideration. While not an earth-moving change this dual focus will give supporting spouse’s more leverage than they had before in negotiating the amount of alimony to be paid.
If you have questions about how to determine your marital standard of living for alimony purposes give me a call toll-free at 844-431-3380, or contact me via email using the contact form. I have been representing clients in alimony cases in northern New Jersey for over 20 years. My client base is drawn primarily from Hudson, Essex, Bergen, Passaic, Union and Middlesex counties. Whether you contact me via email or telephone your initial consultation is free of charge.