Divorce involves many complex financial issues, some of which can create uncertainty and persistent economic stress for many years. One of the most contentious issues in any divorce case in Springfield, MO, is alimony, also known as spousal support or spousal maintenance. If there is a significant difference in income between you and your spouse, or if one of you controls far more separate property than the other, alimony could potentially come into play as a key financial element of your divorce order.
Missouri is an equitable distribution state in terms of property division in divorce, meaning that judges handling divorce cases strive to ensure the fairest possible division of marital property in every divorce they handle. However, while many judges strive to avoid alimony arrangements by awarding more significant shares of marital property, this isn’t always feasible, and some divorcing spouses will have a clear need for ongoing financial support.
How Does Alimony Work in Missouri?
When a couple divorces in Missouri, they must divide their marital property according to its equitable distribution law. This law strives for the fairest possible division of assets, but this may not mean an entirely equal division of marital property in some divorces. For example, the property division process requires both spouses to complete financial disclosure statements that contain records of all their financial accounts, both marital and separate. “Separate” property is anything not subject to division under the equitable distribution law, such as property owned before the marriage, inheritance, and gifts.
Everything that does not qualify as either spouse’s separate property is subject to division under the equitable distribution law. This includes income earned by both spouses during the marriage, jointly owned property, real estate purchased by the couple during marriage, and separate property that is appreciated thanks to the efforts or contributions of the other spouse.
Once the judge handling the property division has thoroughly reviewed all of the couple’s financial records, they will determine the most equitable possible division of their assets. Depending on the unique details of the situation, alimony may be necessary if one spouse has far less separate property than the other, if they are unable to work for medical reasons, or if they have been financially dependent on their spouse for many years.
How Is Alimony Calculated?
If possible, some judges will award larger shares of marital property to offset the need for alimony arrangements. In addition, some couples can privately negotiate their divorce terms in alternative dispute resolution, avoiding the need for ongoing financial agreements. However, when alimony is an unavoidable issue in a divorce, the two main factors used to determine the fairest possible terms are the financial disparity between the spouses and the length of time the marriage lasted.
Some states use formulas to calculate alimony and the length an alimony agreement must continue, but there are no firm alimony statutes in Missouri. Typically, judges who handle alimony determinations will require alimony to be paid for one year for every three years a marriage lasted. However, this is not a firm rule, and a judge can determine that a permanent alimony arrangement is most suitable in some situations. For example, if a divorcing couple’s marriage lasted more than 10 years and one spouse sacrificed a career to take care of the couple’s home during the marriage, or if they are unable to work and support themselves due to disability, the judge may determine that permanent alimony is necessary.
The purpose of alimony is to provide the supported spouse with the means to sustain a similar standard of living to what they had while married until they can financially support themselves, if possible. While some alimony arrangements may continue for several years or even permanently, there are typically various terminating actions that would end the alimony agreement.
How Does Alimony Stop in Missouri?
Alimony will end whenever one of the divorced spouses dies. Otherwise, alimony will end when the terms of the alimony order state that the agreement ends or when the supporting spouse completes a “terminating action.” These actions are typically anything that significantly reduces the need for further financial support from the paying spouse. Examples include a significant increase in income, cohabitation with a new partner, or remarriage. Whenever the supported spouse completes a terminating action, they must notify the court, and the paying spouse’s alimony obligation terminates immediately.
It is also possible to request changes to a standing alimony order. For example, if you must pay alimony but suffer a catastrophic injury that disables you and prevents you from continuing your job, you could petition for a cancellation or reduction of your alimony obligation to reflect these new circumstances. Again, the modification process is relatively straightforward, and a family law attorney can assist you in drafting your petition for modification.
If you need to pursue a modification of your alimony terms and the judge deems your request to be reasonable and necessary given your circumstances, they can implement the change with immediate effect. However, in the event you discover that the recipient of alimony has failed to disclose their completion of a terminating action or has otherwise intentionally neglected to report a change in their circumstances to the court that influences their eligibility to continue receiving alimony, your attorney can help you determine whether you have grounds to file contempt proceedings and hold them accountable for alimony you paid in good faith that they were not legally entitled to receive.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Alimony is likely to be one of the most challenging financial issues you will face in divorce. Whether you expect to pay it to your spouse or receive it from them, it’s essential to know your alimony terms are fair, reasonable, and tenable for the foreseeable future. An experienced Springfield, MO, divorce attorney is always a valuable asset to have on your side no matter what a divorce case entails, but this is especially true for divorces that involve complex financial issues between spouses. If you have questions about the role alimony could potentially play in your upcoming divorce, contact an experienced Springfield, MO, divorce lawyer to discuss your concerns.