An Introduction to the Lifestyle Analysis Process: Why the Maintenance Formula Doesn’t Always Work


In a divorce settlement, maintenance is the financial support one spouse may be required to pay the other. There are maintenance guidelines and a formula in place, but these don’t always capture the nuances and complexity of a couple’s situation.

Look no further than the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“statute”) to understand why a lifestyle analysis can be essential to determining maintenance allocations. The statute itself recognizes that maintenance guidelines won’t always work—and in fact, the court is not required to follow the guidelines.

When the maintenance formula can’t calculate an allocation that is fair and equitable, there are additional ways to determine spousal support—including lifestyle analysis.

Is maintenance guaranteed?

First, it’s important to note that maintenance is never guaranteed. The beginning step is to prove that someone is a candidate to receive maintenance.

The court is required by law to consider an established set of 14 relevant factors, including the duration of the marriage, the needs and income of each person, the circumstances of each person, the standard of living established during marriage, and tax consequences. These factors do not necessarily bear equal weight—and the court’s goal is to make a fair decision based on its assessment of these 14 factors.

What is the lifestyle analysis process?

A lifestyle analysis is a compilation and verification of all financial records from a marriage, such as tax returns, financial accounts, financial statements, business documentation, 401(k) accounts and pensions. This information is then organized into a visual representation that shows past—and sometimes future—income and expenses for both parties.

The analysis considers whether the parties were big spenders or big savers, how many vacations were taken each year, how much was spent on entertainment each month, and so forth. This process gives a clear understanding of the financial circumstances during the marriage and defines the standard of living during the marriage.

The marital lifestyle analysis has forensic and empirical backing, allowing it to withstand simple oral arguments with scientific proof. Often times, even a person’s knowledge of their own finances can be limited.

Conducting a lifestyle analysis typically involves hiring a lifestyle analysis expert, who may engage in forensic accounting. An expert in the field can ensure a precise analysis and serve as a valuable voice in court by explaining their findings to a judge at a highly sophisticated level.

What are the advantages of a lifestyle expert and analysis?  

A lifestyle analysis is a dynamic database that tells a complete story—versus a maintenance formula that spits out one number. For attorneys, an analysis is helpful because we can explain each figure, each number and each result, and run multiple scenarios for a judge.

Additional benefits of a lifestyle analysis include:

  1. Credibility: The court is going to recognize the experience, math and verifiability of a formal lifestyle analysis.
  2. Holistic Valuation: The average person does not typically have a full grasp of their spending at a granular level. An analysis does a deep dive using technology and empiricism.
  3. Expertise: It can be overwhelming for a client to testify about their personal financials. Using an expert is worthwhile because they can be more resilient in a cross examination. It also removes the personal element of the analysis and can help prevent the impeachment of a client testimony.

Does a lifestyle analysis apply to child support?

Yes, it does. According to Section 505 of the statute, an Illinois divorce court has the option of bypassing the maintenance formula and awarding child support based on the best interests of the child. The court can refer to relevant evidence, including the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage or civil union not been dissolved.

A child should not suffer because the custodial parent has a limited income. The trial court should consider the income and resources of both parties, and conclude whether the greater portion of child support should come from the higher earning person commensurate with the lifestyle the child is accustomed to enjoying.

The child’s standard of living will also be considered when allocating college expenses and determining support for a disabled child who has passed the age of majority.

How does a financial affidavit impact lifestyle?

A strong lifestyle analysis originates from a strong financial affidavit. Every divorce case requires both parties to complete a financial affidavit—a disclosure of their respective financial circumstances (income, expenses, assets, debts, etc.).

There are real and serious penalties for presenting the court with a misleading financial affidavit. Often times, financial affidavits are quickly and loosely prepared. However, this haphazard approach opens a person up to risk and penalty.

If the intention is to maximize or minimize the amount of support the other side receives, then a person needs to truly understand the importance of an accurate financial affidavit and its impact on a lifestyle analysis. Learn more about how to fill out a Financial Affidavit.

Contact Our Divorce and Family Law Firm in Evanston, Chicago, Lake Forest and Oak Brook

If you’re worried about maintenance or interested in pursuing a lifestyle analysis, I welcome the chance to answer your questions and support you through the process.

Request a free consultation or call (847) 868-9584. I will happily meet with you via Zoom; at our offices in Evanston, Chicago, Lake Forest or Oak Brook; or at another location that’s convenient for you.


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For a free consultation, call Stern Perkoski Mendez at (847) 868-9584 or contact us.