Alimony: Marital Standard of Living

The Utah courts define the standard of living as “a minimum of necessities, comforts, or luxuries held essential to maintaining a person or group in customary or proper status or circumstances.”

The Utah Supreme Court has held that “it is the purpose of alimony is to equalize the standard of living for both spouses, maintain them at their present standard of living as much as possible, and avoid the necessity of one spouse receiving public assistance.” See Mullins v. Mullins, 2016 UT App. 77, ¶ 10 (quoting Boyle v. Boyle, 735 P.2d 669, 671 (Utah Ct. App. 1987)). “Usually the needs of the spouses are assessed in light of the standard of living they had during the marriage.” Martinez v. Martinez, 818 P.2d 538, 542 (Utah 1991).

7 Factors the Court Uses to Determine Alimony

  1. the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse;
  2. the recipient’s earning capacity or ability to produce income. This includes the impact of diminished workplace experience resulting from primarily caring for a child of the payor spouse;
  3. the ability of the payor spouse to provide support;
  4. the length of the marriage;
  5. whether the recipient spouse has custody of minor children requiring support;
  6. whether the recipient spouse worked in a business owned or operated by the payer spouse; and
  7. whether the recipient spouse directly contributed to any increase, such as education, in the payer spouse’s skill during the marriage.

Thus, although the goal of alimony is to maintain the parties at their marital standard of living, it is ultimately a balancing act by the court. The courts use mainly the Financial Declaration to balance one party’s respective need for alimony against the other’s ability to pay. Each party must submit a Financial Declaration to the court or they become subject to a penalty of perjury. The Financial Declaration states the party’s assets, liabilities, monthly income, and monthly expenses.

Other Things to Consider

Importantly, the Court can allow reasonably anticipated expenses. According to State Law, the court must “avoid focusing on actual expenses alone when assessing need because the expense level during separation may be necessarily lower than needed to maintain an appropriate standard of living.” See Kidd v. Kidd, 2014 UT App. 26, ¶ 24. Through the reasonably anticipated expenses, the spouses can establish the marital standard of living.

However, credible evidence must support these expenses. It is critical to have spent time during the discovery period obtaining and disclosing all evidence that may be used at trial. The evidence that establishes the marital standard of living could include bank and other financial statements, receipts, bills, etc.

Therefore it is best, to begin with this end in mind. The parties should gather the evidence needed to prove the standard of living that they enjoyed during the marriage. Include in your Financial Declaration your anticipated expenses based on this standard of living which should include your “minimum necessities, comforts, or luxuries held essential to maintaining [you] in customary or proper status or circumstances” which you enjoyed during your marriage and be prepared to back it up with credible evidence at trial.