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Term vs. Modifiable Maintenance in a Missouri Divorce

scales of justice.jpgIf you are involved in or are faced with a potential divorce in Missouri it is critical that you understand your potential entitlements and potential obligations to an award of spousal maintenance (aka alimony).

In a blog early this summer we discussed those factors used to determine if an award of maintenance is likely or possible in a Missouri divorce. (See “Will There Be An Award Of Spousal Maintenance in My Missouri Divorce?“) In this blog we will examine two types maintenance as defined by their potential duration and potential for modification or change. These two types of maintenance awards are commonly referred to as term maintenance and modifiable, open-ended maintenance (modifiable maintenance) by Missouri family law attorneys and judges.

There are two common differences between these two types of maintenance awards. First, term maintenance is awarded for a specific period of time with a clearly defined end date while modifiable maintenance is more open-ended and will typically terminate only upon the remarriage of the recipient spouse, death of either spouse or a subsequent order of the family court terminating the maintenance award after a motion to modify is filed.

Secondly, an award of term maintenance is typically not modifiable during the term. For example if one spouse is ordered to pay term maintenance to the other spouse in the sum of $1,000.00 per month for a period of thirty six (36) months, the maintenance amount cannot change during that thirty six (36) month period or be extended by a subsequently filed Motion To Modify. However, in awards of modifiable maintenance, the amount of maintenance is subject to change if a subsequent motion to modify is filed, and the court finds that there exists a substantial and continuing change in the financial circumstances of the either spouse which would require an increase or decrease in the amount of the maintenance award.

The trial court has broad discretion in setting the amount and determining if the maintenance award will be term or modifiable. But, Section 452.335.2 of our Missouri Statutes sets forth the specific factors that Missouri Family Law attorneys and judges should first rely upon in determining the amount and duration of any maintenance award. Among those factors is “The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable a party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment.” Specifically, in cases where the trial court is persuaded by evidence that the receiving spouse will be self-supporting at the end of a specific time period they are more likely to award term maintenance. This may occur if one spouse is in the process of a course of training or education that will make them more marketable at its completion or if the recipient spouse acknowledges a time-frame by which he or she will likely become self-supporting.

While the Missouri Court of Appeals have made it clear that “there is a judicial preference for awards of unlimited maintenance”(modifiable maintenance), and term maintenance “is justified only where substantial evidence exists of an impending change in the financial conditions of the parties”, your family court judge does still possess broad discretion to determine if there is evidence that would lead an award of term maintenance. Therefore, it is important that you discuss with your Missouri family law attorney how the particular judge handling your divorce will likely view the specifics of your situation.

Further, while this blog is a discussion of the factors involved in these two types of maintenance award it is important that you discuss your Missouri divorce attorney the relative advantages and disadvantages of negotiating a settlement or requesting an award of either term or modifiable maintenance at trial. Based upon your circumstances there may be a decided advantage to you in an award of one type of maintenance over the other.

If you have a divorce pending St. Charles County, St. Louis County or the surrounding communities do not hesitate to contact our office for a free consultation about the specifics of your situation.

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