Minnesota Statute § 518.552 provides that the Court may grant spousal maintenance, in part, “considering the standard of living established during the marriage.” Minn. Stat. § 518.552. It can be difficult to determine exactly what the standard of living established during the marriage is for each situation. It is not uncommon for the standard of living to vary over the course of the marriage, or change drastically towards the end of the marriage.
The starting point is to create a detailed monthly budget showing how much is spent on things like housing expenses, groceries, travel, clothing, gasoline, etc. This budget should be realistic and should as closely approximate how funds were spent during the marriage as possible. A number of factors can affect the budget including, but not limited to, whether the marital standard of living is no longer sustainable now that the parties will be living separately, whether the marital standard of living was partially (or fully) maintained through the accumulation of debt, etc.
Bottom line, the budget should reflect the parties’ historical spending during the marriage but also must take into account any changes in spending, and whether the parties lived beyond their reasonable means during the marriage.
What about expenses incurred after the parties have separated but before the divorce is finalized? The divorce process can be lengthy in some situations. The general rule is that a post-separation budget must reflect expenses that are consistent with the standard of living established during the marriage. In other words, if a spouse’s budget reflects expenses that exceed the marital standard of living, they can be excluded when determining need for spousal maintenance.
Once both parties have created realistic budgets, each party’s income must be analyzed based on the budget. If one spouse has a budget shortfall (he/she does not have sufficient income to meet the monthly budget), he/she may have a need for spousal maintenance in order to reflect the marital standard of living. Importantly, the standard of living established during the marriage is not the only factor analyzed by the Court. However, it is an important consideration for any spousal maintenance claim.