Throughout the divorce process, especially if maintenance is an issue, you will likely hear the phrase “the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage” many times over. Provided there are enough resources available, the court will generally aim (or at least the lawyers will argue) that assets and income should be allocated in such a way that allow each party to continue living in a manner consistent with the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. Whether this means taking a vacation to Europe every year and shopping at designer stores or dining out once a week and buying a new car once every 10 years, the standard will vary from one family to the next.
The standard of living is an especially important consideration in maintenance cases when the (potential) paying spouse tries to argue that the payee spouse is employed or employable and earns or is capable of earning sufficient income and can support him or herself. In Illinois, however, case law supports that the lower earning spouse should not be obligated to simply “get by” when the other spouse earns more, and especially when one spouse has helped the other advance his or her earning potential:
“Marriage is a partnership, not only morally, but financially. Spouses are coequals, and homemaker services must be recognized as significant when the economic incidents of divorce are determined. [One spouse] should not be penalized for having performed her assignment under the agreed-upon division of labor within the family. It is inequitable upon dissolution to saddle [her] with the burden of her reduced earning potential and to allow [the husband] to continue in the advantageous position he reached through their joint efforts.” In re Marriage of Hart, 194 Ill. App. 3d 839, 853, 551 N.E.2d 737, 745 (1990).
Although more often than not parties cannot afford to live at exactly the same standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage, a payment of maintenance can close the gap between the disparity of income that would otherwise exist.
Other critical considerations include how long the maintenance will last and whether the award is modifiable. The tax consequences must also be examined. All of these things should be discussed with your lawyer before entering into an agreement.