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Maintenance: Reasonable Needs vs. Standard of Living

By David M. Slaby

Before a spouse is entitled to maintenance (formerly called alimony) from the other party, the party seeking maintenance must first prove that he or she is not earning enough income from the property they are to receive to support themselves and that he or she cannot meet their reasonable needs through appropriate employment.

Once a party has met this burden of proof to overcome the initial threshold, then the court can award an appropriate amount of maintenance.  One of the biggest questions in determining whether or not a spouse is entitled to maintenance and, if so, how much, is what are the spouse’s reasonable needs?

Many clients seeking maintenance believe that their reasonable needs are whatever amount of money is necessary for him or her to maintain the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage.  That is not the case.  While it is important for a party seeking maintenance to include all of the typical monthly expenses he or she had during the marriage, the court will then consider whether or not those expenses are reasonable. While one judge may consider a weekly massage or manicure reasonable, another judge may find that completely unreasonable.  While one judge may find that purchasing all of your food from ‘Whole Foods’ is reasonable, another judge might find that excessive.

If the party seeking maintenance has met the two-part threshold discussed above, and the judge has determined what the candidate’s reasonable needs are, then the court will consider a number of other factors set out in § 452.335 to determine how much monthly maintenance to award and the duration of that maintenance award.  Only one of the factors the court considers is the standard of living the parties maintained during their marriage.  It is important to recognize that after the divorce, the parties are now maintaining two separate households which require significantly more money.

One of the other important factors the court considers when determining how much maintenance to award is the ability of the party to pay the maintenance ordered.  The court must factor in the paying spouse’s needs to support him or herself while also providing support to the other spouse.

So remember, reasonable needs do not always equal the maintenance candidate’s standard of living he or she had during the marriage.  While standard of living is a factor the court considers, the court must also factor in the payor’s ability to pay spousal support while also meeting his or her own reasonable expenses and needs.

These determinations will be different on a case by case basis and can vary depending on the county your case is in and which judge is deciding the case.  These are all important considerations when deciding whether or not to reach a settlement with your spouse or whether take your maintenance case to trial.  It is critical that you have an experienced and knowledgeable attorney who can explain all of these factors to you and how they relate to the facts of your case.


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