Spousal Support in a Dissolution of Marriage
In Missouri, spousal support is also known as "maintenance" and was formerly known as "alimony." It is a form of support where the money is paid monthly, from one spouse to the other, for the spouse's financial support after a divorce. This is distinguished from child support, which is a monthly payment made for children's financial support. Unlike child support, there is no presumption that one spouse may be entitled to spousal maintenance, and there is no set formula or calculation for determining an amount of maintenance. Instead, Missouri provides a two-part test to determine entitlement for maintenance and then a list of ten factors for the court to consider in determining the amount of the award.
The two-part test that a spouse seeking maintenance must meet is as follows:
- The person lacks sufficient property, including marital property apportioned to him or her, to provide for their reasonable needs; AND
- The person cannot support themselves through appropriate employment or is the custodian of a child whose condition or circumstances make it appropriate that the custodian not be required to seek employment outside the home.
How Courts Determine the Amount of Spousal Maintenance
Generally, once a court has determined that the two requirements above have been met, the court may consider the following list of 10 factors to determine the amount of spousal maintenance to award, if any. However, the court is not limited to these 10 factors and may consider all factors relevant in a particular case. Also, there is no formula regarding the weight of these factors or calculating the amount. This is up to the discretion of the court.
- The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property received, and the ability of the paying spouse to meet his or her needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for the support of a child living with the party includes a sum for that party as custodian
- The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment
- The comparative earning capacity of each spouse
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- The debts and assets, including marital property received and separate property received
- The length of the marriage
- The age, physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance
- The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet his needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance
- The conduct (or misconduct) of the parties during the marriage
- Any other relevant factors
It is important to note that while all of these factors can be considered. Maintenance can be awarded in any case, the majority of spousal maintenance cases involve marriages over 10 years in duration. In these marriages, there is a large disparity in income, and/or marriages where one spouse was a stay at home parent and has been out of the workforce for a significant period of time.
What Is Spousal Maintenance?
A Missouri court may award spousal support when one spouse has significantly greater earning capacity than the other because of various factors. Those factors may help guide the court in determining the amount and duration of the support obligation. Because divorce cases can take time to resolve, some people might want to request retroactive spousal support, such as an order dated back to the date of filing for divorce or the date the parties separated.
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled on the question of retroactive support late last year. It found that state law only allows courts to award spousal support “prospectively.” Archdekin v. Archdekin, 562 S.W.3d 298, 306 (Mo. 2018). While a final order cannot order retroactive support, the court noted that temporary maintenance is available while a divorce is pending. This could provide support for periods of time before a final judgment granting the divorce.
Section 452.335 of the Missouri Revised Statutes allows a court to order one spouse to pay support to the other spouse, but only when they lack the resources to support themselves and cannot obtain sufficient income through employment. The statute identifies numerous factors for the court to consider when determining the amount of a spousal support obligation. These include the financial resources available to each party, including the property distributed to each party in the divorce itself, and the general standard of living that the couple had previously maintained.
The statute specifies that a person who qualifies to receive spousal support must be unable to provide for their own “reasonable needs,” with “reasonable” being the key term. As mentioned earlier, the word “alimony” often carries a negative connotation, as it is associated with an obligation to maintain an ex-spouse's lavish standard of living. The implication, of course, is that alimony maintains an unreasonable standard of living. The spousal support statute directs the court to consider the disparity in earning capacity between the parties. The intent is to provide support for a person who relied on their spouse during the marriage.
In addition to those factors, the court should consider the amount of time the party seeking maintenance needs to improve their employment prospects, such as through additional training or education. This places an expectation on the recipient's spouse, although not every spousal support recipient will be able to go back to school after a divorce. The need for spousal support may arise, for example, from illness, injury, or other disability.
How Long Can a Spouse Be Obligated to Pay Spousal Maintenance?
A spousal support order could have a definite endpoint, or it could remain in effect until the recipient remarries, either party dies, or the court modifies the order.
State law merely provides that a court should order payment of spousal support for an amount of time that it “deems just,” in light of the various factors identified in § 452.335. Factors like the duration of the marriage and the parties' ages may influence the court's decision. A spousal support order could have a definite endpoint, or it could remain in effect until the recipient remarries, either party dies, or the court modifies the order.
How Is the Amount of Spousal Maintenance Determined?
Much like the duration of an order, the amount of support is left mostly to the court's discretion. All of the above-described factors could influence the amount. The income and resources of the payor are obviously important, as well as the recipient's needs.
Section 452.335 also identifies “the conduct of the parties during the marriage” as a factor for courts to consider. This is ambiguous by design. It could mean wrongdoing by one or both spouses, or it could mean positive contributions to the marriage.
What About Retroactive Spousal Maintenance?
The wording of § 452.335 indicates that an order to pay spousal support should be part of a final judgment of dissolution. In some situations, a court may issue a judgment of dissolution despite a lack of personal jurisdiction over one of the spouses. The spouse who was present for the divorce proceeding can bring a separate action for spousal support later, once they can locate the other person. In either situation, the court decides on spousal support simultaneously as, or after, deciding on issues like distribution of marital property.
A key issue on appeal in the Archdekin case was that dissolving the marriage and ordering the husband to pay spousal maintenance, issued in 2013, was not a “final” judgment. A pending bankruptcy case prevented the court from ordering distribution of most of the marital property at that time. The 2013 order included a spousal support order retroactive to November 2011—the approximate date of separation. The court modified that order several times before issuing a final judgment in 2016, but spousal support provisions did not change.
The husband appealed, arguing that the court could not order retroactive spousal support and could not order spousal support before ordering a final marital property division. The Missouri Supreme Court agreed. It held that the trial court “erred in awarding maintenance to commence before the date it entered its final judgment.” Archdekin, 562 S.W.3d at 306. It noted that § 452.315 of the Missouri Revised Statutes allows courts to order temporary spousal support before a final judgment of dissolution. Since the wife had not moved for temporary support, the court reversed the spousal support award's retroactive portion.
The court also agreed with the husband about ordering spousal support before a final division of marital property. However, it also found that the husband “was not prejudiced” by this because the eventual property distribution “did not materially change the award of maintenance.” Id. at 301-02.
Attorneys at Ahearn Kershman, LLC focus their practice exclusively on divorce and other family law matters in St. Louis, Missouri area. To schedule a confidential consultation with a knowledgeable legal advocate, please contact us today online or at (314) 774-2575.
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