Right to ‘maintain lifestyle’ not absolute after divorce
Dear Clients and Friends,
It’s a common notion that a divorcing spouse has an unshakeable right to support which will maintain the lifestyle he or she became accustomed to during marriage. But this is not always true.
A recent Massachusetts case makes this clear in the alimony context. There, a divorcing wife received custody of the children, child support and alimony. Four years later, she caused a fatal accident while driving drunk and went to prison for eight years. During her incarceration, her ex-husband was the children’s sole support. Meanwhile, he continued to make reduced alimony payments pursuant to a modification judgment issued around the time of the wife’s arrest.
Once the wife was released, the husband, who was earning more than $200,000 a year, sought to have his alimony obligation terminated. In doing so, he pointed out that he had been paying his ex-wife, who was now making $15 an hour at a Home Depot but also had income from a trust fund and an inherited IRA, for longer than the durational limits under state law for a marriage of their length.
In response, the wife argued that justice demanded a deviation from durational limits because termination of alimony would leave her with a lifestyle significantly inferior to what she had enjoyed during the marriage.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court disagreed, emphasizing that a spouse needs to show more than just a diminished lifestyle to warrant deviation, particularly when he or she can provide for his or her own support.
Laws vary from state to state, however this ruling is very much in alignment with California law.
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