Many couples beginning the divorce process are often concerned, and rightfully so, about how they will be able to maintain their “standard of living” once the single household is divided in two and doubling many expenses. How will they maintain the standard of living? Sometimes there is enough wealth and equity that the separation and divorce with have a minimal, if any, effect on the spending habits of the parties. On the other hand, quite often, what worked when the parties were together, cannot possibly be accomplished once they are apart.
In a recent written opinion by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Lawrence R. Jones, J.S.C., the Court addressed the issue of pendente lite alimony, and whether parties should be expected to maintain the marital standard of living.
In light of the recent amendments to New Jersey’s alimony statute – N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(b) – the Court held that 1) Retention of the “marital lifestyle” is not the sole criteria in pendente lite alimony analysis and 2) In many divorce cases, it is mathematically probable that following separation, neither party will be financially able to maintain the former “marital lifestyle.” Real numbers have to be used.
In Malek v. Malek, Docket No. FM-15-1028-16, the Plaintiff is a teacher earning $90,000. The Defendant is a hairdresser with an imputed income of $20,000. Together they were living paycheck to paycheck. The parties separated and shared joint legal and residential custody. The Defendant filed a motion for pendente lite alimony. The Plaintiff argued that since the Defendant was living under her mother’s roof, there was no need for the spousal support…that there were no true expenses.
The Court recognized that there was obviously not enough money for both parties to maintain the marital lifestyle. But it also found that just because the Defendant was being assisted by her mother under financially challenging circumstances, it would not be appropriate or equitable to deny the Defendant reasonable interim support in order to meet a reasonable budget. The Court granted the Defendant pendente lite alimony.
It is important to understand that while the intent is to maintain the “marital lifestyle” concept, using “figure-based equity,” it is likely that neither party will be happy with the outcome. All of the alimony factors must be considered but the budget applied must be real. The parties need to have a firm grip on what the finances are, and what they will be, in order to prepare themselves for the future.
If you have questions or seek advice regarding the divorce process and/or spousal support, please contact us for a free ½ hour consultation.