Adults who separate or divorce generally recognize that child support is a necessary part of co-parenting arrangements. Financial obligations often fall to the higher-earning adult or the one who spends less time with the children.
However, sometimes there will also be a need for spousal maintenance. People sometimes refer to these financial payments from one spouse to the other as spousal support or alimony. Maintenance is the term used in Missouri state statutes. Unlike child support, spousal maintenance is not an inherent obligation that applies to virtually all cases. Judges have to consider family circumstances to determine if maintenance is appropriate in a litigated case, how much payments should be and how long they should last.
Family circumstances influence financial obligations
A judge reviewing one spouse’s request for maintenance during and after a divorce will need to consider several important elements of the marriage. The length of the marriage is an important consideration. Longer-term marriages where one spouse has left the workforce are much more likely than shorter marriages to lead to a maintenance order.
Judges also look at the separate property and earning potential of each spouse. Whether someone has a job and whether they have the ability to work is an important consideration. The ability of the higher-earning spouse to pay is another influential factor. Additionally, they will look at medical issues. For example, if one spouse has a debilitating medical condition that will affect their ability to support themselves, that can absolutely influence what a judge believes would be appropriate for maintenance.
A judge can consider the health and needs of the children. If there is a dependent child with special needs who may require around-the-clock care or who may continue living at home indefinitely instead of becoming independent, those family factors can have a major influence on someone’s likelihood of supporting themselves independently in the future. Finally, the costs of child care if one parent returns to work can also influence maintenance.
With so many variables in play, it can be very difficult to predict exactly how a judge will rule. Judges have discretion regarding both the length of maintenance payments and the amount that one spouse pays to the other. The only way to know with certainty what those financial obligations would be is to settle outside of court and pursue an uncontested divorce where the spouses have an agreed-upon maintenance arrangement.
Learning how Missouri handles spousal support or maintenance matters can help individuals to better understand what to expect from the divorce process and to plan their approaches accordingly.