Adultery in Missouri: Does Cheating Affect Alimony?

If you’re getting divorced in Missouri and you or your spouse has cheated, you’ll need to know how the adultery will affect the judge’s decisions about your case, including alimony, child custody and support.

By , Retired Judge

When a marriage ends in divorce, there's heartache all around. And when adultery is the cause, you have to deal with not only increased emotional pain, but also concerns over how the adultery might impact your divorce, including any potential award of alimony.

Every state's alimony laws are different; here's a breakdown of how Missouri's alimony laws address adultery.

Overview of Alimony in Missouri

Divorce can cause financial turmoil and reveal hard truths about each spouse's post-divorce financial prospects. Often, one spouse will be in a better position than the other, with, for example, a higher-paying job, a more promising career path, or access to more assets.

The courts attempt to balance these financial inequities by ordering the spouse who is more financially sound to pay alimony (referred to as "maintenance" in Missouri) to the other. The main goals of alimony are to ensure that both spouses can provide for their own needs and have enough money to maintain (as nearly as possible) the standard of living they had during the marriage.

Judges in Missouri have a lot of freedom to craft alimony in a way that makes sense under the circumstances. However, Missouri judges can award alimony only when:

  • the receiving spouse doesn't have enough property to cover all reasonable needs, and
  • the receiving spouse isn't able to self-support through employment or has custody of a child whose condition or circumstances prevent that spouse from working outside the home.

(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.335 (1) (2021).)

When a judge finds that both of those conditions apply, the judge next evaluates the following factors to formulate an alimony award that is fair and reasonable:

  • the receiving spouse's financial resources (including any division of property that the judge makes during the divorce)
  • the time required for the receiving spouse to acquire enough training or education to find suitable employment (if necessary)
  • the earning capacity of each spouse
  • the standard of living established during the marriage
  • the debts and assets of each spouse
  • the length of the marriage
  • the receiving spouse's age
  • the physical and emotional condition of each spouse
  • the ability of the paying spouse to meet the paying spouse's own needs while also meeting those of the receiving spouse
  • the conduct of the spouses during the marriage, and
  • any other relevant factors.

(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.335 (2) (2021).)

When the court does order alimony, it can set a date when alimony will end. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.335 (3) (2021).) The concept of permanent (indefinite) alimony has fallen out of favor nationwide. Long-term alimony awards are usually ordered only when the receiving spouse hasn't been employed for some time or isn't a good candidate for employment, perhaps because of age or illness.

Does Committing Adultery in Missouri Affect Whether the Court Will Grant a Divorce?

Missouri is a "no-fault" divorce state. This means that adultery and other traditional fault-based grounds (reasons), like physical or mental cruelty, desertion, and substance abuse aren't required to obtain a divorce. Missouri eliminated fault-based grounds in an attempt to lessen the anxiety and bitterness those grounds tend to generate in a divorce. (And, less animosity usually leads to lower legal fees, which is a benefit to both spouses.) Unlike many other states, Missouri allows only no-fault divorces.

To get a divorce in Missouri you need to prove only that the marriage is "irretrievably broken"—that there's no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be salvaged. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.305 (2) (2021).)

Does Adultery Affect Alimony in Missouri?

Adultery does not always affect alimony in Missouri, but it can sometimes have an impact. As mentioned in the first section of this article, "the conduct of the spouses during the marriage" is a factor Missouri judges consider when deciding the issue of alimony. Keep in mind, though, that this is only one of ten factors the judge will be evaluating. The judge will weigh the occurrence of adultery against the rest of the evidence, keeping incidents of adultery in perspective when making decisions about alimony.

That being the case, an adulterous affair that results only in hurt feelings probably won't play that big a role, if any, in a determination of alimony. But there are situations that could have a greater impact. For example, if a spouse had an adulterous affair and cleaned out the marital savings account to take a lover on a luxury vacation, the court would be more likely to attribute significance to the infidelity because it affected the spouses' finances.

Does Adultery Affect Custody or Child Support in Missouri?

In most Missouri divorce cases, the fact that a spouse has cheated does not affect custody or child support. However, it's important to remember that when it comes to custody matters, judges must prioritize the best interests of the children. So when a parent's adulterous behavior endangers a child, it could certainly affect a judge's custody decision. For example, if a parent leaves a young child unattended because that parent is out having an extra-marital affair, it's likely a judge would be reluctant to entrust the child's well-being to that parent.

When it comes to child support, Missouri child support guidelines advise that the amount of time a child spends with a parent who is obligated to pay child support can factor into a calculation of the support amount. As a rule, the more time a parent has with a child, the less child support the parent will have to pay, because they're already spending money on the child during parenting time (also known as "visitation"). If the court denies or significantly limits parenting time because of a parent's adultery, the offending parent will likely be paying more money for support.