When your marriage ends in Missouri, a judge may order one spouse to pay maintenance to the other to assist in the transition. Known as spousal maintenance in the state, here’s what you need to know if you’re in this type of situation.
- What Types of Alimony are Available in Missouri?
- Who is Eligible for Spousal Support?
- Factors for Determining Alimony Awards
- How Long Does Alimony Last?
- Modifying Maintenance in Missouri
- Termination of Alimony
- Taxes and Alimony
- Missouri Alimony FAQ
What Types of Alimony are Available in Missouri?
Alimony awards in Missouri are gender-neutral, meaning either spouse, regardless of sex, can request it from the court. Judges can award temporary, periodic, or permanent alimony. In some cases, there may be blended awards.
Temporary Spousal Maintenance is also known as pendente lite. Temporary alimony is awarded during a divorce proceeding. It is ordered when the court finds a spouse needs financial assistance in a marriage or legal separation or while a divorce is still pending. This type of alimony ends when a judge finalizes the divorce and grants a different kind of alimony or does not award it.
Periodic Spousal Maintenance is also sometimes called Rehabilitative Spousal Maintenance. It is usually awarded for short-term support while the receiving spouse acquires the job skills or education necessary to find employment.
While the court expects both spouses to be financially independent following a divorce, there is also recognition that one spouse who has been absent from the job market for an extended period may need time to gain the necessary skills to get a proper job. In other instances, a judge may award periodic maintenance to help a dependent spouse transition to a post-divorce lifestyle or meet financial obligations while waiting for the marital home to sell.
Permanent Spousal Maintenance is another form of financial support but is rarely awarded. Courts reserve it for long-term marriages where one spouse can’t become financially independent due to age, health problems, or permanent disabilities.
Who is Eligible for Spousal Support?
Alimony awards are gender-neutral, meaning either spouse can request it from the court. However, awards are not automatic, and the spouse seeking maintenance will have the burden of making a case to receive an award.
Judges have broad discretion in determining whether alimony should be awarded, how much, and how long. Courts will consider providing help based on the reasonable needs of a spouse after a divorce and whether they can meet those needs on their own or not.
Under Missouri revised statute §452.335 the spouse seeking maintenance must prove the following to meet a minimum standard for consideration:
- A lack of sufficient property, including marital property, apportioned to them to provide for their reasonable needs; and
- The inability to support themselves through appropriate employment or is the custodian of a child whose condition or circumstances make it suitable that the custodian not be required to seek employment outside the home.
Factors for Determining Alimony Awards
If the court finds it appropriate to award alimony, the following factors are considered to determine the duration and amount of the spousal maintenance award:
- both spouse’s financial needs and the capacity of each spouse to be financially independent
- the time a supported spouse needs to acquire sufficient education and training to find employment
- each spouse’s earning capacity and financial resources
- the marital standard of living established during the marriage
- both spouse’s obligations and financial resources
- the duration of the marriage
- the supported spouse’s age and physical and emotional condition
- if the paying spouse can remain financially independent while supporting the other spouse
- the conduct of each spouse during the marriage
- any other relevant factors, such as how marital property was divided, what is considered separate property, and others, per Missouri Code Ann. § 452.335 (2018).
Maintenance payments aim to ensure that neither spouse is impoverished after the divorce. Judges don’t use a formula to determine alimony and have broad discretion regarding what’s fair in each case.
If either spouse committed marital misconduct, like abandonment or adultery, the court might consider it when finalizing an award. However, it’s essential to understand that the court won’t usually deny alimony to a needy spouse simply because that spouse is guilty of having an affair. It won’t typically award alimony to a financially independent spouse just to “punish” the unfaithful spouse.
It’s also important to remember that the spouses’ conduct during the marriage is only two of ten factors during an alimony evaluation. The court must balance all factors before creating a spousal support award.
For example, if a cheating spouse has wasted marital funds on gifts or vacations for a lover, the court may order reimbursement to the innocent spouse.
Read More: How to File for Divorce in Missouri
How Long Does Alimony Last?
The short answer is “it depends.”
Courts usually only order maintenance payments for as long as is necessary in Missouri, but because they have broad discretion and each case is treated differently based on individual circumstances, there is no magic formula to predict how long alimony might be awarded when it involves you.
In a divorce settlement, a maintenance order must first consider whether a spouse can provide for their reasonable needs and if they can provide for themselves through appropriate employment, or if they are a custodial parent and working outside the home is not appropriate.
Based on these conditions, the court will then look at the abovementioned factors. This complex mix will produce a maintenance order that relies on alimony calculations that best meet the needs and address both parties’ responsibilities.
Modifying Maintenance in Missouri
While these spousal support payments may make sense during and immediately after your divorce, they may not remain viable for long. Situations change, and what made sense initially may not make sense later.
When this is the case, either spouse can petition the court to modify or terminate spousal maintenance. Some of the reasons that a modification may be justified in Missouri include:
- An increased income
- Cohabitation with a new partner
- An involuntary job termination or layoff
- Wage reduction
- Business failure
- Recent retirement
- Increase in the cost of living
- A disability or illness that impacts the ability to earn money
Until your modification petition is granted by the court, according to the state’s alimony laws, you are fully obligated to maintain the terms of the existing order, and you should fulfill your legal obligations as much as possible.
After a divorce is finalized, a court retains jurisdiction to modify the court-ordered maintenance award if the maintenance awarded is deemed modifiable. Some awards are not modifiable, which is something to consider when negotiating alimony.
When creating an alimony order, the court must include a provision clarifying if the award is modifiable or nonmodifiable. If the couple wants to make alimony nonmodifiable, both spouses must agree, in writing, before the judge signs the order.
It’s also critical to note that modification and review of the spouse’s ability to pay may lead to a decrease, increase, termination, extension, or other types of modification based on a substantial and continuing change of circumstances.
Termination of Alimony
In most cases, the person seeking a modification bears the burden of proof in Missouri. If you seek to reduce or terminate an award, you must file a petition with the court and supply substantial evidence of a change in your circumstances.
For example, if you’ve lost your job or fallen into poor health, those may be viable reasons to terminate spousal support. Spousal support also ends when the receiving spouse gets married, either spouse dies, or the duration of the original support order comes to an end.
Taxes and Alimony
If you finalized your divorce on or before December 31, 2018, payments are tax-deductible to the paying spouse and reportable taxable income to the recipient.
However, if you didn’t finalize your divorce until January 1, 2019, or later, new changes to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminate the tax deduction and reporting requirements.
If you’re negotiating an alimony award, part of what you must consider is these recent tax changes impact annual income and alimony awards. Where there was the benefit of a tax deduction to the person paying alimony, now they must pay tax based on that taxable income. That makes paying maintenance less attractive and could make negotiating more difficult.
Whether you are the spouse seeking alimony or the higher-earning spouse required to pay alimony, it’s probably best to speak with an experienced tax attorney or a family law attorney before finalizing an alimony agreement.
Missouri Alimony FAQ
How long do you have to be married to get alimony in Missouri?
Judges are not bound by hard and fast rules in Missouri when deciding alimony payments or the duration of payments in divorce proceedings. The general rule is that the longer the duration of the marriage, the more likely it is that a spouse seeking an alimony payment will make a request to the court. In that way, the duration is an essential factor.
However, there are cases when a spouse seeking support may qualify for alimony if they have been married for a year or less, and the court deems there are enough qualifying circumstances. In cases like this, alimony is paid for only a few months.
Read More: Gray Divorce: The Complete Guide
What happens if alimony isn’t paid?
When a spouse does not fulfill their alimony obligations, there are several possible enforcement actions available to an ex-spouse:
File for an Examination of Judgment Debtor. The ex who falls behind could be ordered to court to testify about their income, assets, and financial condition. In some cases, an attorney can subpoena paystubs, financial statements and other documents and call expert witnesses. This action is often a first step to charging the payer with contempt of court.
File Contempt Proceedings. This is one of the most common ways to enforce an alimony order. Your attorney can help you draft a motion to hold your ex-spouse in contempt of court. A judge will likely rule that the ex-spouse must immediately pay the outstanding alimony balance they owe plus a penalty for first-time offenders. Repeat offenders may earn a trip to jail to impress upon them the serious nature of those missed payments.
Contempt of court can also result in an ex losing some custody or visitation rights if you have children together.
Withholding Income. You can also petition the court to withhold income by asking a judge to order your employer to garnish wages. Garnishment means that a percentage of their paychecks will be automatically transferred to you to cover alimony payments.
File a Writ of Execution. A writ of execution allows the court to seize bank accounts, stock holdings, and other assets. Most courts will only approve a writ of execution if a substantial sum of back alimony is owed. If your ex-spouse has not paid alimony and is not employed, wage garnishment isn’t a viable option.
File for a Judgment Plus Interest. A reasonably simple option is to petition the court to enter a judgment that requires your ex-spouse to pay the outstanding owed alimony balance plus compensation for legal fees. When a judgment is entered, the court automatically places a lien against any real estate property they own. Courts will likely approve an interest penalty as well.
Petition for Imprisonment. You can ask the court to put an ex-spouse in jail until they pay what they owe. However, this petition is rarely granted in Missouri.
Is marital fault considered for calculating alimony?
Missouri considers marital fault when determining alimony payments. This means that “at-fault” divorces caused by infidelity, adultery, and abuse, can result in the at-fault party paying “punitive” alimony.
However, it’s essential to understand that the court typically won’t deny alimony to a needy spouse because that spouse is guilty of having an affair. It won’t award alimony to a financially independent spouse to punish the unfaithful spouse.
The spouses’ conduct during the marriage is only two of ten relevant factors during an alimony evaluation. Judges are required to balance all factors before ordering a spousal support award.
Does child support affect spousal maintenance in Missouri?
Child support is treated as a separate matter in the Missouri divorce process and is put in place to protect the welfare and well-being of children in a divorce. Spousal maintenance is a separate issue, but a judge may consider child support payments as part of a general obligation when determining the duration and how much alimony should be paid.