After receiving an Order in a divorce judgment of spousal support or alimony, which is referred to as maintenance in Missouri family courts, many times there are questions and concerns surrounding the term of these maintenance payments and whether they can ever be altered.
As discussed previously on our blog, spousal support is awarded by the Court as term maintenance or modifiable maintenance. It is important to note that if there was no award of maintenance in your original dissolution of marriage or legal separation judgment, you are barred from ever coming back to court at a later date to request such an award from the other party. Additionally, per Missouri Revised Statute 452.370, a maintenance award is automatically terminated upon the remarriage of the party receiving maintenance or the death of either party.
Typically, term maintenance is set out for a certain number of years or months and is never modifiable, within that time span or upon its conclusion, regardless if there has been a change in the parties’ financial circumstances.
However, if a party receives a modifiable, periodic maintenance award, then either either party can return to court at a later date to request that the court increase or decrease the amount of maintenance being paid. Most Missouri family law attorneys will advise their client to wait for at least a year after the original dissolution or legal separation judgment to request a modification. However, in some situations the Court will consider a maintenance modification earlier depending on the circumstances.
In Missouri family court, maintenance can only be modified if there is a substantial and continuing change of circumstances. Like child support modification, this substantial and continuing change of circumstances requirement means that the current maintenance order that one party is to pay to another is unreasonable in light of these new circumstances. The party requesting a change of the previous maintenance order amount can be either the paying former spouse or party receiving the maintenance payments. But, the party making the request for the modification has the burden of proving to the family court judge that the increase or decrease in the maintenance amount is appropriate given the change of circumstances.
The Judge will examine the evidence including the financial situations of both parties to determine whether it would grant a maintenance modification. When examining the financial situations of the parties, the Court has considerable discretion in evaluating different factors at hand. The Court will focus on the ability of each party to meet his or her reasonable living expenses on his or her own, without the assistance of the other party. Thus, the employment status of each party is relevant as well as how much each party is making now as compared to the time of the original dissolution of marriage or legal separation judgment. The Court will also determine whether either party is cohabiting with someone that is or that should be assisting with that party’s expenses, i.e. a boyfriend or girlfriend.
In addition to the financial circumstances of the parties which may change due to an increase or decrease in income, the court will also examine if there has been a change in either parties ability to earn income and support themselves financially. For example, a party may have experienced an improvement in their income potential due to furthering their education or employment specific training. Likewise, the court will take into consideration any unexpected deterioration in the health of either party since the previous order of maintenance was entered, resulting in a decrease in the ability of that party to support themselves financially or contribute to the support of the other party. These are just some of the typical issues the judge will consider.
The change of a maintenance award can be a highly contested issue that parties, family law attorneys and judges must wrestle with when a motion to modify that award is filed. Therefore, it is important that you discuss with your Missouri family law attorney the specific change in the financial financial circumstances of both your self and your former spouse throughout the litigation process. Further, it is important that you discuss with your attorney how he or she believes the judge will view the change of circumstances in your case and whether it warrants a modification.
If you have a family court case in St. Charles County, St. Louis County or the surrounding communities, please do not hesitate to contact our office for a free consultation regarding your potential maintenance modification situation or other family court matter.