Missouri Alimony Maintenance Laws

by Bernadette A. Safrath

Alimony, called spousal maintenance in Missouri, is financial support provided by one spouse to another after a divorce or separation. The purpose is to provide for the receiving spouse's basic needs if she cannot support herself through her own income and assets. Maintenance payments are limited in duration and can be court ordered or agreed to between the spouses.

Separation Agreements

If spouses have an amicable relationship, despite their divorce or separation, they may be able to save time and money by signing a separation agreement or divorce settlement agreement. Section 452.325 of the Missouri Revised Statutes states that any agreement, including provisions for spousal maintenance, will be honored as long as no provision is considered by the court to be unconscionable (grossly unfair). The agreement must be signed by the court in order to be binding and enforceable on both spouses.

Eligibility

To be eligible for maintenance, a spouse must meet certain criteria set forth in the statutes. First, the spouse requesting maintenance must not have sufficient assets to support herself, even after the marital assets are divided. Second, the spouse must not earn significant income or must be unable to work because she has custody of young children or a child whose care would prevent her from seeking employment outside the home, for example, a child with a disability.

Amount and Duration

Missouri sets no specific duration for spousal maintenance payments. Instead, the court sets the term and amount of alimony payments based on several factors. These include the length of the marriage and both spouses' age, health conditions, income and value of their individual assets. The court also considers the time a receiving spouse needs to return to the workforce, whether she needs training and education or must wait until a young child begins attending school. Misconduct by either spouse that led to the divorce, such as abuse, adultery or abandonment, and the supporting spouse's ability to meet his own financial needs while paying maintenance may also be factored in.

Enforcement

When a spouse fails to make maintenance payments on time, the receiving spouse can petition the court to enforce the order. If the court issues an order for missed payments, the judgment can be paid from a wage garnishment order wherein a percentage of the owing spouse's paycheck is withheld and transferred to the spouse owed alimony. Additionally, the court is authorized to order the seizure of funds in an owing spouse's bank account or place a lien on the spouse's property. If the spouse attempts to sell any property with a lien, the judgment will be satisfied through proceeds from the sale before the owing spouse is permitted to profit from the sale.

Modification and Termination

An order for maintenance may be modified if either spouse experiences a "substantial and continuing change of circumstances." If a court finds that modification is necessary, it will re-examine the factors used when issuing the original maintenance order. The maintenance amount may be increased or decreased, or the term may be extended or shortened. Additionally, the maintenance obligation will end if either spouse dies or the spouse receiving maintenance remarries.