Lawyer for Determining Standard of Living in West Chester, PA Divorce Cases
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Lee Ciccarelli

Lee Ciccarelli

Lee Ciccarelli is the founder and managing partner of Ciccarelli Law Offices with over two decades experience as a practicing attorney.

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304 North High Street West Chester, PA 19380
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1515 Market St., #200 Philadelphia, PA 19102
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135 East State St. Kennett Square, PA 19380
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600 West Germantown Pike Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462
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1489 Baltimore Pike Ste 221 Springfield, PA 19064
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101 Lindenwood Dr, Ste 225 Malvern, PA 19355
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150 N. Radnor Chester Rd Ste. F200, Radnor, PA 19087
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313 West Liberty St., Ste 341 Lancaster, PA 17603
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Determining Standard of Living

State law in Pennsylvania makes the “standard of living of the parties established during the marriage” a relevant factor in the equitable division of marital property of divorce cases. For many couples, the additional expenses that each spouse incurs in attempting to maintain two separate residences as opposed to one shared home often makes it impossible to maintain the standards of living each had become accustomed to.

In some cases, however, a spouse with a significantly higher income may be provide additional support to a dependent spouse. The process of proving one’s standard can be very complex, and it is very important for people to record and new or increased expenses that may impact their standard of living.

Lawyer for Determining Standard of Living in West Chester, PA Divorce Cases

Are you preparing to or has your spouse already filed for divorce in southeastern Pennsylvania? You will want to make sure that you have experienced legal counsel for help ensuring that you are able to maintain a standard of living that is as close as possible to what you have grown accustomed to.

The West Chester divorce attorneys at Ciccarelli Law Offices help clients all over Lancaster County, Chester County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, and the greater Philadelphia area with the division of assets. Call (877) 529-2422 to schedule a free consultation that will let our lawyers review your case and discuss all of your legal options.


Overview of Determining Standard of Living in Pennsylvania


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Factors Determining Standard of Living in Chester County

The phrase “standard of living” is typically based on two aspects of a couple’s marriage: the couple’s income and expenses. In divorce cases, the disparity between the individual incomes and expenses of spouses can play an important role in determining the standard of living that the couple established during marriage.

Spouses typically want to maximize the amount of income they contributed to marriages while limiting their number of expenses. In addition to whatever line or regular work a spouse might have, additional income sources might include:

  • Disability payments;
  • Interest;
  • Investments;
  • Retirement;
  • Social Security; and
  • Any other incomes.

Expenses can include various household bills as well as costs associated with child care or other household functions. Wealthier couple may have significant expenditures involving luxury items.

Standards of living that might seem particularly high or low can actually be misleading. For example, two spouses that spent extravagantly but managed their finances rather recklessly might each claim a high standard of living, but it is probably not in the best interest of either party for the spouses to maintain such a lifestyle upon separation.

Every divorce is different, and so too is every determination of a couple’s standard of living. Because there is not simple mathematical formula that determines a spouse’s standard of living, it is important for any person getting divorced in the greater West Chester area to have an attorney who can identify all factors that should be considered in determining a couple’s standard of living.


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Court Opinions on Standard of Living in Pennsylvania

Standard of living has played an important role in numerous court cases throughout Pennsylvania for several years. On October 24, 1994, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued its decision in the case of whether a trial court could order child support in an amount lower than the guidelines contained in Rule 1910.16-1 et seq. of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure suggested.

The appellant in Ball v. Minnick, 648 A. 2d 1192 was a waitress with a minimum wage earning capacity who lived with her then-unemployed husband and the two children of her marriage to the appellee. The total monthly budget of appellant’s household was $850 per month, with the children from the marriage constituting 40 percent of the household and $340 per month reflecting their reasonable needs. The appellee earned $1,705 per month and lived with his wife and her two children from a prior union.

While the guidelines suggested that the appellee pay an amount of $513.00 per month, a de novo hearing in the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County led to the trial court ordered the appellee to pay only $400 a month. The appellant appealed this decision, but the majority for the Supreme Court concluded, “It is clear that an Order of $400.00 per month meets all the basic needs of the children, so that any contribution made by plaintiff will serve to enhance the standard of living of the children.”

In his opinion for the majority, Justice Ralph Cappy wrote:

Under Rule 1910.16-4, a court may not deviate from the guidelines on the ground that the child does not need this amount of money. This is not a factor that is set forth in Rule 1910.16-4(b). While subsection (7) of that Rule which references the standard of living of the parties might seem at first blush to support the trial court's reasoning, we find that given the premises on which the guidelines are based, subsection (7) was not intended to justify the downward modification of the guideline figures absent a showing of special needs and/or circumstances. Again, the purpose of the support guidelines is to make available for the children's reasonable needs the full amount of the guideline figure unless unusual obligations of the obligor limit his or her ability to pay the guideline amount.

Since the trial court considered a factor that should not have been considered in entering the support award here, an abuse of discretion is readily apparent. Moreover, as there were no additional relevant factors which would support the trial court's award, application of the above principles dictates that an award in the amount of the appropriate guideline figure should have been awarded. Accordingly, for reasons other than those articulated by the learned Superior Court, the decision of the Superior Court reversing the trial court's award is affirmed. The case is remanded for the imposition of an award in the amount of the appropriate guideline figure.

Justice John P. Flaherty Jr., however, “emphatically” dissented from the majority opinion. In his dissent, Flaherty Jr. wrote:

This calculation and reasoning process were entirely proper. The whole purpose of the guidelines and of support hearings generally is to determine what amount of money is needed to support the children and to require both parents to pay their fair share of that need. This is exactly what the trial court did.

Furthermore, the trial court properly explained its deviation from the guideline. As Rule 1910.16-4(b)(7) requires, the court must consider, inter alia, "standard of living of the parties and their children." In basing its order on the monthly budget for the family as presented by the mother, the court appropriately considered the standard of living of the parties and their children.

The majority "finds" that subsection (7) of Rule 1910.16-4(b) cannot be used to justify a downward modification of the guideline. The justification for this remarkable determination is "the premises on which the guidelines are based." Needless to say, this justification justifies nothing. By definition, a guideline must be able to be modified upwards or downwards, depending on the facts of the case.

Generally, I agree with the majority's conclusion that "the purpose of the support guidelines is to make available for the children's reasonable needs the full amount of the guideline figures unless unusual obligations of the obligor limit his or her ability to pay the guideline amount," but this has no application where the parties tell us what amount is needed to support the children and that amount is different from the guideline.

The trial court is correct in reasoning that on the facts of this case, if the father were required to pay the guideline amount, he would, in effect, be subsidizing the mother's new husband and child in addition to supporting his own children. Such a result defies rationality.

More than two decades later, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania issued its decision on September 22, 2006, in Gibbons v. Kugle, No. 656 MDA 2006. In this case, a couple married in 1990 had two children before separating in 1997.

In 2005, the mother filed a petition for modification in 2005 requesting recalculation of the child support after adjusting for the father’s increase in income and specifically requesting contribution from him for tuition at St. Mary’s Elementary School, a private Catholic school located in Annapolis, Maryland (which costed $6,230 per year). The father was directed to pay $1,857.00 per month in support for the children as well as an additional $264.79 per month toward parochial school.

One basis of appeal for the father was that “private schooling was not consistent with the standard of living and station of life of the parties prior to separation.” The Superior Court wrote:

The trial court determined that the parochial school tuition of $6,230.00 per year is consistent with the parties’ standard of living and station in life prior to separation and, thus, is a reasonable need for S.K. The court also determined that S.K.’s parochial school tuition is consistent with Father’s income of $133,000 for 2005. The trial court further found that consistent with Pennsylvania Support Guidelines, the tuition must be allocated between the parties in proportion to their net incomes. Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-6(d). We agree. Although the trial court determined that private school tuition is consistent with the parties’ standard of living and station in life based solely on economic factors, we find that its decision is consistent with Pennsylvania law.

On December 27, 1996, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania decided Karp v. Karp, 686 A.2d 1325, 1328 (Pa. Super. 1996), involving an appellee who was a 20-year-old university student when she married the appellant who was a 39-year-old already successful businessman with a net income in the range of $2 to $4 million per year in January 1983. The couple divorced in 1990 after producing four children and moving from a townhouse apartment in Philadelphia to an estate in the suburbs.

The appellee was awarded $33,000 per month unallocated child support and alimony pendente lite (APL), as well as $3,000 per month arrearages before the Appellant filed exceptions and an order was entered awarding the appellee $45,068 per month combined APL and child support as well as $5,000 per month arrearages. Another appeal led to the Superior Court affirmed the opinion of the lower court, writing specifically in relation to standard of living:

However, part of Appellant's position on the standard of living issue proceeds from a professed desire to instill principles of public service, thrift, and egalitarianism in his children. Again, as the trial court correctly points out, such values, while laudable, are taught by the parents, not the objects which compose a child's surroundings. That Appellant has not grasped this distinction is apparent, among other things, from his denial that his property is an estate or his house a mansion. However, a 20-room dwelling on 11 acres of landscaped property in an exclusive neighborhood remains an estate regardless of the age of the appliances or the inelegance of the furniture. Insisting that his home is merely a house in the suburbs, modestly appointed, and lacking recent renovation, does not transform it into a three bedroom split level on a half-acre plot in a subdivision, nor should it.

This court has stated over and over that the purpose of a support order, such as that under review, is "to secure such an allowance to wife and child as is reasonable, having in mind the husband's property and earning capacity and the station in life the parties." Commonwealth ex re Kallen v. Kallen, 200 Pa.Super. 507, 508-9, 190 A.2d 175, 176 (1963). Moreover, "a wealthy father has the legal duty to give his children the `advantages' which his financial status indicates to be reasonable." Branch, 427 Pa.Super. at 420, 629 A.2d at 171. (quoting Hecht v. Hecht, 189 Pa.Super. 276, 150 A.2d 139 (1959)). Most pertinently, this court has observed that

The cases which support the proposition that the standard of living after separation, if possible, should reflect the conditions existing before separation, turn on the available income and lifestyle that income would support. To live during the marriage in a fashion dedicated to reducing expenditures and accumulating wealth, thereby living far below the standard one would expect of persons in that position, cannot be a basis for depressing the living standard of the wife, while permitting the husband to continue to amass large financial assets after separation. The standard of living to which she is entitled is one reasonably supportable by the income and station in life of the parties, irrespective of the frugal inclinations of the husband.

Edelstein v. Edelstein, 399 Pa.Super. 536, 542, 582 A.2d 1074, 1077 (1990).

Thus, the critical factor in determining standard of living is clearly the financial circumstances of the obligee, not his philosophical position on the precise limits of the good life — what he can afford is the question, not what he is willing to pay for. In fashioning its award, the trial court attempted to achieve the correct balance between reasonableness, no mean task given that limits are conspicuously lacking, and propriety.


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Pennsylvania Resources for Determining Standard of Living

Equitable Distribution | Title 23 | PA General Assembly — Title 23 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes concerns domestic relations. Paragraph (9) of 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3502 specifically addresses the “standard of living of the parties established during the marriage” as a relevant factor to the equitable division of marital property. You can view the full text of the entire statute to learn more about the other relevant factors.

Gibbons v. Kugle, No. 656 MDA 2006— The Superior Court of Pennsylvania issued its decision on September 22, 2006, in this case of a couple who married in 1990 and had two children before separating in 1997. In 2005, the mother filed a petition for modification in 2005 requesting recalculation of the child support after adjusting for the father’s increase in income and specifically requesting contribution from him for tuition at St. Mary’s Elementary School, a private Catholic school located in Annapolis, Maryland (which costed $6,230 per year). The father was directed to pay $1,857.00 per month in support for the children as well as an additional $264.79 per month toward parochial school. One basis of appeal for the father was that “private schooling was not consistent with the standard of living and station of life of the parties prior to separation.” The Superior Court wrote:

The trial court determined that the parochial school tuition of $6,230.00 per year is consistent with the parties’ standard of living and station in life prior to separation and, thus, is a reasonable need for S.K. The court also determined that S.K.’s parochial school tuition is consistent with Father’s income of $133,000 for 2005. The trial court further found that consistent with Pennsylvania Support Guidelines, the tuition must be allocated between the parties in proportion to their net incomes. Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-6(d). We agree. Although the trial court determined that private school tuition is consistent with the parties’ standard of living and station in life based solely on economic factors, we find that its decision is consistent with Pennsylvania law.


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Ciccarelli Law Offices | West Chester Marital Standard of Living Lawyer

If you are contemplating or have already begun divorce proceedings, it will be in your best interest to have legal representation for help maintaining as close to possible as to the standard of living that you had grown accustomed to. Ciccarelli Law Offices understands the many unique factors that can affect court orders in these cases and fights to help clients achieve the most favorable outcomes.

Our divorce attorneys in West Chester have offices in Springfield, Malvern, Philadelphia, King of Prussia, Lancaster, Kennett Square, Radnor, and Plymouth Square. They can provide an honest and thorough evaluation of your case as soon as you call (877) 529-2422 or submit an online contact form to take advantage of a free initial consultation.


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