The Hard Considerations of Spousal Maintenance

In any divorce where a party’s spousal maintenance needs resolution, there are statutory threshold questions for determining whether or not it is appropriate.

There are two grounds for spousal maintenance and both concern the standard of living of the parties involved:

1. The spouse seeking maintenance lacks sufficient property, including marital property apportioned to the spouse, to provide for the reasonable needs of the spouse considering the standard of living established during the marriage. This includes, but is not limited to, a period of training or education.

2. The spouse seeking maintenance is unable to provide adequate self-support, after considering the standard of living established during the marriage and all relevant circumstances, through appropriate employment, or is the custodian of a child whose condition or circumstances make it appropriate that the custodian not be required to seek employment outside the house.

It is important to base a budget on the “Standard of Living” the parties enjoyed during the marriage. The standard of living requirement is different in every case as it is based on the recipient’s justifiable “reasonable” needs and “adequate self-support.” In the Chamberlain case a permanent spousal maintenance award was upheld: even though the recipient spouse was employed throughout the marriage because, there was a high marital “standard of living”. The recipient spouse’s employment was not self-supporting enough to meet that standard of living. 

Maintenance is awarded to meet need, therefore there needs to be a clear establishment of “reasonable needs.” If a budget can be met by assets/income or through self-support, then no spousal maintenance is required. For example, in Lyon case an award for permanent spousal maintenance was reversed because of the substantial property award enabled the wife to continue her established high standard of living, thus leaving her without any cash flow issues of income and expenses.

A good example of what is not considered a “reasonable need” is the historical incursion of debt during the marriage. A court can look at the historical monthly living expenses to determine if the parties lived an “artificially inflated” lifestyle during the marriage. If the court makes this finding, the standard of living used for a maintenance calculation will be less comfortable as continuing an artificially inflated lifestyle is not reasonable.