In Determining the Amount of a Spousal Support Order a Divorce Court May Consider the Previous Marital Standard of Living Along with Other Circumstances. The Marital Standard of Living is Not the Sole Determinative Factor

In a divorce proceeding, wife was awarded spousal support of $1,700 per month. Wife moved to Hawaii with the two children. By stipulation the spousal support order was increased to $2,300. Subsequently the support order was reduced to $1,700 and husband was required to make monthly payments of $560 to wife’s creditors for 21 months. Wife’s divorce lawyer requested a modification of monthly spousal support. The divorce court determined that husband had worked over 2,000 billable hours during the marriage. Additionally, the divorce court determined that the family had been living beyond its reasonable means. At the time of wife’s request to modify spousal support, husband’s income had increased substantially.

Wife’s divorce lawyer sought an increase of spousal support to $9,918 per month in order to maintain the marital standard of living. Wife’s divorce lawyer argued that husband had the ability to support her so that she could maintain the marital standard of living. The divorce court doubled the spousal support order to $3,300 and wife’s divorce lawyer appealed claiming it should have been increased to $7,317 at a minimum. Husband’s divorce lawyer cross-appealed the decision to modify the spousal support order.

On appeal, the Court agreed with husband’s divorce lawyer and explained that husband had overworked himself in order to maintain the marital standard of living, and the family had been living beyond it’s means during the marriage. The Court stated there must be a showing of material change in circumstances in order to grant an upward spousal modification order. Wife’s divorce lawyer had the burden of showing the previous order was not sufficiently meeting her needs. The Court stated the previous marital standard was not the sole factor in determining spousal support. The Court held husband’s increased income did not require wife’s spousal support award to be increased, considering the fact that the marital standard of living had been unreasonably high. However, the Court upheld the divorce court’s spousal upward modification award of $3,300.

In re Marriage of Smith (1990) 225 Cal.App.3d 469