I’m getting divorced. My spouse makes much more money than I do, and I can’t support myself on my income. I need maintenance (alimony). My lawyer tells me that the judge will look at what I spend to determine how much maintenance I get. If I am frugal now the court will see I can live on less and I won’t get enough maintenance. I should spend as much money as I possibly can, right?
Wrong. Here’s the first question you need to ask yourself: Would someone who doesn’t know me think I am being reasonable? Would a neutral outsider who thinks you and your spouse are probably equally at fault for whatever happened in your marriage (which is what the judge usually thinks) believe that you are being reasonable in your spending? If not, don’t do it.
Some attorneys might tell you to spend as much as possible to show the judge the high level of your needs. That isn’t good advice. You have to make reasonable judgments about your expenses during the divorce process. If you have separated, you are now living in two households. The income you and your spouse earn that previously supported one household must now support two households. Unless you were able to save a lot of money while you were living together (in which case there may be money available to cover the new dual-housing costs), you can’t afford to keep spending at the same rate, because your expenses have increased, probably significantly.
A judge looking at how much maintenance you should receive will consider how much you spent when you were together. The judge might look at a year of expenditures, or several years. You can’t change your past spending; it’s history. The relevant period of time is most likely to be the period of time up to the time you separated. Judges understand that things change when you separate. They understand that people make adjustments– a move to a smaller apartment during the case, skipping trips, spending less money on recreation–which may change after the case is resolved. Judges may see your overspending as irresponsible and may penalize you for it. Don’t find creative ways to make lavish or unnecessary expenditures on credit cards, or take money out of savings, when the income doesn’t support it. Don’t tell yourself, “My spouse wasn’t good to me, so I deserve to have this.” It doesn’t work that way. Don’t convince yourself, “My spouse is spending more than he/she should, so I should, too.” Even if you have to cut back on things now, things you expect to be able to do after the divorce, don’t spend money that doesn’t exist. Remember that if you expect to receive half of the marital property in your divorce, every dollar you spend during your divorce costs you 50 cents (as does every dollar your spouse spends).
No-one will fault you for maintaining your lifestyle during your divorce if the income is there to support it. However, if the income can’t support it, then you have to be reasonable. A judge trying to determine how much maintenance you will be awarded will be trying to determine your reasonable monthly expenses. If you always consider that word when you are trying to figure out what to spend, you will be doing yourself a favor.
For a consultation on this or any other family law issue, please contact the attorneys at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, P.C.