Equalizing incomes doesn’t always equalize lifestyles

In setting alimony for really long marriages (30+ years) the family courts sometime try to equalize incomes.  In cases in which both parties are retired and living off retirement and social security this equalization approach seems just.  When two people have spent almost their entire adult lives together both should be able to live their retirement years with similar lifestyles.

However, when one party is not retired and the other party doesn’t work (or works significantly fewer hours than the other) income equalization does not result in lifestyle equalization.  Equalized incomes when one spouse works 60+ hour work weeks and the other spouse doesn’t work will not equalize lifestyles–it won’t even come close.  This is because it is more expensive to work than to not work.

Work reduces leisure and, by reducing leisure, increases expenses.  One who doesn’t work has plenty of time to cook, clean and run errands.  A hard worker may often need to outsource such tasks by hiring cleaning services or gardeners or purchasing prepared foods or eating in restaurants.  Working typically increases transportation and clothing expenses (the clothes I wear for work are much more expensive than the clothes I wear for leisure).  Having less free time often results in paying more for vacation or fitness.  Someone with significant leisure time may remain fit by taking long walks.  Someone working long hours may need the concentrated exercise time of gym membership to stay healthy.  Someone with significant leisure can often travel during times when travel is less expensive and may need fewer “getaway” opportunities to decompress.  Someone working long hours is often forced to vacation at set times (when costs can be greater) and may have an increased need for the stress reduction that changing one’s physical environment can produce.

When a hard working spouse and a non working (or less hard working) spouse divorce equalizing incomes creates lopsided lifestyles.  One representing such a hard working spouse is advised to demonstrate evidence of the “costs” of the hard-charging career when the court sets alimony so that one’s client isn’t left living worse off than the ex-spouse.


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