Like many states, Missouri courts prefer to call alimony “spousal maintenance.” By any name, there are few definitive rules regarding when a judge orders it and how long the payments last. Missouri courts have a great deal of discretion when it comes to spousal maintenance or support. It usually comes down to the opinion of a single judge, based on the particular circumstances of your case.
Terms of Decree
Your divorce decree may or may not specify how long you have to pay maintenance to your ex. Generally, Missouri judges decide property division first, because this can affect both the paying spouse’s ability to provide support and the receiving spouse’s need for it. For example, an asset awarded to your spouse, such as a rental property, might produce income. Therefore, she would need less financial assistance from you. The court also looks to the earning capacity of the spouse seeking maintenance, so the duration of your marriage factors in. A spouse who has not worked in 10 years or more because she stayed home to take care of the family is more likely to receive maintenance than a younger spouse with career options. However, even younger spouses might receive support if they must remain a home to care for very young or disabled children.
Types of Alimony
Generally, Missouri courts do not order “permanent” alimony. Your divorce decree probably includes a termination date or is silent regarding a specific date when your obligation ends. Judges order termination dates based on how much time they feel a receiving spouse might reasonably need to acquire sufficient job skills or education to support herself. If your decree includes a termination date, you can usually expect to pay alimony until that time. If it does not, you’ll pay until either your circumstances or your spouse’s circumstances experience a significant change.
Some factors can terminate your support obligation sooner than expected. For example, if your ex remarries, you would not have to continue supporting her unless your decree specifically provides for this. However, this is rare. If she dies, she no longer requires your support. If you die, your estate may or may not have to continue paying your ex. In some cases, such as when the receiving spouse is disabled or older and cannot possibly support herself, judges will order a provision that she must continue receiving financial support from your estate or a life insurance policy after your death. Most decrees that include termination dates also include language requiring your ex to actively seek employment while she’s receiving support. If she makes no effort to find work so she can support herself, you have the right to petition the court and bring this to a judge’s attention. He might terminate your obligation to pay her alimony.
Unless your decree specifically states that your support obligation is not modifiable, you usually have the right to petition the court if circumstances change. Generally, all orders without a termination date are modifiable. If something occurs that makes your alimony obligation “unreasonable,” you can file a motion with the court asking a judge to either end it or change it. However, it’s up to you to supply the court with proof of the changed circumstances, and the change must usually be permanent in nature. For example, if you lose your job, you’ll most likely pursue new employment. However, if you become disabled and can’t work, this is an ongoing problem. If your ex wins the lottery, she wouldn't need your support anymore. In situations such as these, the court will probably reduce or eliminate your support payments.