Right to ‘maintain lifestyle’ not absolute after divorce

It’s a common notion that a divorcing spouse has an unshakeable right to support which will maintain the lifestyle he or she became accustomed to during marriage. But this is not always true.

A recent Massachusetts case makes this clear in the alimony context. There, a divorcing wife received custody of the children, child support and alimony. Four years later, she caused a fatal accident while driving drunk and went to prison for eight years. During her incarceration, her ex-husband was the children’s sole support. Meanwhile, he continued to make reduced alimony payments pursuant to a modification judgment issued around the time of the wife’s arrest.

Once the wife was released, the husband, who was earning more than $200,000 a year, sought to have his alimony obligation terminated. In doing so, he pointed out that he had been paying his ex-wife, who was now making $15 an hour at a Home Depot but also had income from a trust fund and an inherited IRA, for longer than the durational limits under state law for a marriage of their length.

In response, the wife argued that justice demanded a deviation from durational limits because termination of alimony would leave her with a lifestyle significantly inferior to what she had enjoyed during the marriage.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court disagreed, emphasizing that a spouse needs to show more than just a diminished lifestyle to warrant deviation, particularly when he or she can provide for his or her own support.

Laws vary from state to state, however, so talk to a matrimonial lawyer in your state if you want to know more.

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