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Spousal Support in the Era of COVID-19

Long gone are the days when the goal of divorce settlements was to keep a non-working spouse “in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.” Now, judges and mediators work to keep both parties as close to the marital standard of living as possible. But what impact will a full year of quarantine-living through the COVID-19 pandemic effect that standard of living? Will it alter divorce agreements and support payments long after we have returned to normal life?

There’s no avoiding the discussion and scrutiny of lifestyle when addressing spousal support. In California, when a court sets spousal support, it often considers the family’s pre-divorce standard of living and attempts to continue this standard if possible.

Then there is child support. While there are computer algorithms designed to churn out proposed payments, there is often a lot more at play. In high net-worth divorces, the child’s standard of living will inevitably be scrutinized. That can mean travel, purchases, entertainment, and recreation; you name it, it’s part of that lifestyle picture. The goal of a fair divorce is to have everyone walk away from the process able to maintain their standard of living as close to what it was in the marital lifestyle as possible.

But how is that lifestyle determined after 2020? Perhaps your $250/month gym membership has been suspended in lieu of a workout DVD. International travel may have been replaced with an Airbnb rental within driving distance.  Dining out, concerts, movies, shopping sprees, whatever was part of your marital lifestyle, has probably been impacted this past year.

There also may be new expenses that weren’t part of your pre-pandemic life.  Was this the year you began therapy that isn’t covered by medical insurance? There might be ongoing expenses from working at home, a situation that many companies are opting to continue long-term. Some of the costs and some of the savings are likely to be long-lasting as we emerge from life at home.

Time will tell how 2020 will affect the analysis of the marital standard of living and support agreements moving forward. Like seemingly everything COVID-related, it will take the advice of experienced professionals to guide the conversation and a lot of flexibility and patience to sort through. As we collectively wait to see what the new normal will look like in a post-pandemic world, the settlements and judgments we see in the short term will shape the value of divorce agreements going forward. The best way to protect your interests is to find an attorney who has the experience to go beyond computer algorithms and take a holistic look at your situation to negotiate the best agreement for your situation.

by Debra Schoenberg