Permanent (i.e., judgment) spousal support is always a challenging issue. How much is just right? For how long should it be paid? Can you use computer software to help calculate an amount? Can you rely solely on the number a support software program generates? How much money should the client spend on professional fees to reach a settlement on spousal support? A case out of Ventura County gives some good thought to these questions, and elaborates on one possible option, the forensic marital standard of living analysis.
Alexander divorced Joanne after almost 22 years of marriage. Alexander was making good money as a dentist. Joanne was not working. Through the hard work of Alexander, Joanne, and their lawyers a settlement was negotiated whereby Alexander would pay Joanne $7,000 per month in spousal support. It appears that the primary tool used to negotiate the amount, and to settle on the $7,000, was the prevalent Dissomaster support software. After a few years Alexander hired a different lawyer who advised him to pursue a reduction of spousal support, and to procure a forensic marital standard of living analysis to support his request. That forensic analysis was done, and the expert opined that $7,000 per month was too high. Alexander successfully lowered his spousal support obligation and then promptly sued his first lawyer for malpractice, arguing that the first lawyer had not done his job because he had not insisted that Alexander pay for a forensic marital standard of living analysis as part of the original settlement negotiations.
Cutting to the chase, Alexander lost his malpractice case because he could not prove that Joanne would have settled for an amount less than $7,000 had there been a forensic marital standard of living analysis. For family law lawyers and litigants the opinion is more valuable for the lesson it gives on the the factors a court must consider in setting permanent spousal support, the subtle nuances that go into settling a divorce case, the cost and benefit of a forensic marital standard of living analysis, and the fact that a forensic marital standard of living analysis all by itself rarely results in a comprehensive divorce settlement.
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