In several New Jersey cases, it has been established that the goal of spousal support is to help the spouse receiving support the ability to continue to maintain a lifestyle that is reasonably comparable to the one the spouses had while they were married. However, in these economic times, it is not unusual for spouses to spend beyond their means, live on credit, and otherwise maintain a lifestyle that is not maintainable with their actual income. Under the New Jersey statutory requirements for determining spousal support, the standard of living established during the marriage is one of the factors to consider when awarding spousal support. The court must examine the standard of living and “the likelihood that each party can maintain a reasonably comparable standard of living, with neither party having a greater entitlement to that standard of living than the other.” The issue obviously becomes complicated when the standard of living enjoyed by the spouses during marriage was based on overspending.
This was the issue that recently needed to be addressed in a case called Ponzetto v. Barbetti. During the parties’ nineteen-year marriage, they ran a business that at times was quite lucrative. However, the parties’ business was severely impacted by the economic downturn. Despite the lean times, the parties continued to spend freely, and owned several expensive luxury vehicles at the time of the divorce. The trial judge was faced with the difficult issue of how to determine spousal support when the parties’ standard of living was based on an artificially inflated income. The trial court decided it was inappropriate to use the standard of irresponsible spending the parties engaged in between 2006 and 2008 to determine the marital lifestyle. Usually a judge will look to the parties’ spending during the several years prior to the divorce, but here, the judge decided such a strategy was inappropriate, as that lifestyle was not based on the parties’ needs or the parties’ real income. Instead, the trial court looked to the lifestyle enjoyed by the parties between 1990 through 2006, which was more modest.Many couples have high debt and an issue of irresponsible spending. We have experience in helping our clients sort through the finances and build a strategy for their future after divorce. Contact us today at (732) 529-6937 to talk about your case.