Maintenance, which is the Missouri word for alimony, is one of the great unknowns in Missouri family law.
With child support, there is a formula of who should pay, how much they should pay, and who is covering what. Maintenance, on the other hand, varies by county, Judge, or what day of the week your case is heard on (not really, but you get my point).
Often it comes down to which attorney can make the better argument, which is why you want a good lawyer who knows the law, preferably one who specializes in family law and knows the players involved.
Maintenance is an Order from the Court that has one party pay the other party a monthly amount to cover their reasonable needs.
This is not to say that they will necessarily keep up the same standard of living, but reasonable food, shelter, and other normal living expenses are considered, as is the person’s ability to meet their own needs through employment.
It is generally not used as a punishment (a general misconception) or to allow an otherwise healthy person from working to support themselves, but more of a way to “balance the scales” a little bit (but not necessarily make them equal).
There are two types of maintenance in Missouri: Modifiable and Non-Modifiable.
Your Order needs to specify which one you have!
I will start with modifiable maintenance.
Modifiable maintenance is the only type of Maintenance a Court can Order if your case proceeds to trial.
This means that the Order will continue to be paid/owed until there is an Order from the Court stopping it or changing the amount.
Modifiable Maintenance can be modified upon a triggering factor, such as remarriage of the spouse who receives the maintenance, death of a party, or upon a showing of a material and continuing change in circumstances for either party.
The first couple are easy.
My ex got married or died, so I should no longer be paying maintenance. The material and continuing change in circumstances, however, is a lot more of a gray area in Missouri. Didn’t get the bonus you are used to getting last year?
You probably cannot change maintenance unless you can show that there was a permanent change in the pay structure, loss of job (with no other prospects with equal pay available), or something else that convinces the Court that this reduction is not just significant, is going to be continuing into the foreseeable future, and that it is unreasonable to keep the previous Order in place when all factors are considered.
If you are looking to modify your maintenance Order, do not wait to file the Motion to Modify.
The Court cannot go back to when the change happened, only from the date that the matter is put before the Court (usually when the other party is served).
Do not wait a year and see what happens, or until all of the savings have been depleted, as you are not going to even have a chance to get that back unless a Motion has been pending. You are also likely going to have to keep paying while the matter is before the Court.
Keep in mind that modifiable maintenance can go up or down, and you can usually bet that the other party is going to file their own Motion. If your ex can no longer work for some reason, and your income went down by 10%, your maintenance may go up due to their reasonable needs increasing even though you make less.
Nonmodifiable maintenance, on the other hand, is exactly what it says. You have an Order to pay/receive a certain number of dollars per month for a fixed period of time. A lot of inexperienced attorneys try and claim that all maintenance is nonmodifiable, but unless there is a date that maintenance ends, you have modifiable maintenance. Nonmodifiable maintenance generally does not stop upon remarriage or death. It is a Court Judgement that is awarded to you, with a fixed amount and timeframe. If your ex wins the lottery the day after the Judgment is final, it does not matter. You cannot go back and stop the maintenance award, or ask the Court to increase it. It is a Judgment that will remain in place until paid in full.
Nonmodifiable maintenance can only happen is there is a settlement on the issue of maintenance. The Court cannot and will not order nonmodifiable maintenance. The only maintenance they can Order if the matter proceeds to trial is modifiable maintenance.
Which type of maintenance you should work towards depends on several factors, and you should work with your attorney to see which is right for you.
I like the idea of nonmodifiable maintenance because it means that you are not going to have to return to Court to get it to stop (or hire a divorce attorney again), and there is no danger of it going up or down. You can budget accordingly, and there are no surprises.
However, it is not appropriate in all circumstances. If you are unable to work to support your reasonable needs, and likely can never get to a point where you can, you do not want that amount going away in the future.
Maintenance is one of, if not the, most complicated subjects that the Family Courts have to deal with.
You need a knowledgeable attorney on your side to help you navigate the argument, preferably someone who has had the issue before the Judge on other cases and knows how they usually rule on such issues. This is not the time to use the lawyer friend your cousin has.
Get someone who knows the ins and outs of this issue, and you will have the best chance of success.
Contact the St. Louis Divorce Lawyers at Haefner Law Office for a free 30-minute phone consultation to see if maintenance is right for you.
Our team deals with these issues daily, and while there is no set rule on maintenance in place, we can provide guidance based on the experience we have.