by Attorney Anthony C. Adamopoulos, Divorce Mediator, Arbitrator and Collaborative Law practitioner
In a September 25th decision, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) affirmed an often misunderstood legal tenet i.e., just because the alimony paying ex-spouse starts making more money, the receiving ex-spouse does not automatically get an increase in alimony.
In the year before he filed for divorce, the husband earned over seven million dollars a year. The couple lived a lavish lifestyle where they spent “tens of thousands of dollars on articles of clothing and handbags“. The trial judge found, at trial that the husband’s income was “on an upward trajectory” and that during the marriage the couple’s expenses had increased as the husband’s income increased.
After the trial, the judge ruled that since the husband’s income was “on an upward trajectory”, the wife could only maintain her standard of living “consistent with the marital lifestyle …” by giving the wife 33% of his future gross income. The wife then, was to share in the husband’s future income – the more for him; the more for her.
The SJC overturned the judge’s Judgment and found that:
the most the husband should pay, if he has the ability to pay, is “the amount required to enable …[the wife] to maintain the standard of living she had at the time of the separation leading to the divorce, not the amount required to enable her to maintain the standard of living she would have had in the future if the couple had not divorced.”
Simply put, where the high income couple facing divorce can maintain the lifestyle they had during the last days of the marriage on the husband’s income, the husband will not be ordered to pay more alimony than what the wife needs to maintain her lifestyle at the time of separation. (Want to read the case for yourself? Go to: http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/sjc/reporter-of-decisions/new-opinions/12240.pdf ).