SJC Takes into Account Parties’ Saving and Charitable Giving in Connection with Support Order

In a recent decision, Openshaw v. Openshaw, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) held that in certain circumstances it is proper when setting a spousal support order to consider the parties’ historical allocation of income to savings as an element in measuring a recipients spouse’s need for support as it relates to his/her ability to maintain the marital lifestyle.

Specifically, in Openshaw the Court found that throughout the parties’ thirty-year marriage, it was the parties’ routine practice to set aside a significant portion of their income to savings and charitable giving, to such an extent that doing so become part of their standard of living, as it was a financial decision that was “so customary as to identify the parties’ financial decision-making during the marriage.” While the payor spouse appealed as improper the Court’s inclusion of $1,000 per week in savings and $730.64 in charitable giving in the recipient spouse’s weekly spousal support award, the SJC held that the plain meaning of the alimony statute requires consideration in a recipient spouse’s need where, as here, the evidence showed not only was retirement saving and charitable giving a routine practice during the marriage, but that there was also sufficient income to permit both spouses to maintain the marital standard of living post-dissolution. The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed that need is somehow limited by the parties’ historical allocation of income to financial outlays for expenditures as the payor spouse argued, as that would serve to “penalize those who [were] prudent enough to save during marriage.” While it is proper to consider an established practice of saving during the marriage as an element of a recipient spouse’s need to maintain the marital lifestyle, the determination of whether there are sufficient post-dissolution resources for both spouses to maintain the marital standard of living may serve to limit its practical application.


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