When a marriage ends in divorce, there’s heartache all around. But when a marriage ends in divorce because of adultery, the pain is more acute and it’s mixed with other powerful emotions, like guilt, anger and shame. It’s easy to feel paralyzed by your feelings. But you can take charge of your divorce—and your life—by learning some basic information about your legal rights and responsibilities.
This article will explain the possible impact of adultery on a divorce proceeding and alimony award in Missouri. If you have questions after reading this article, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney for advice.
Alimony, which is technically known in Missouri as “maintenance,” is the payment of money from one spouse to another so that both spouses can maintain a roughly equal standard of living after the divorce is final. The purpose of alimony is to make sure that neither spouse falls into poverty just because the marriage has ended.
Judges in Missouri have a lot of freedom to craft alimony in a way that makes sense under the circumstances. For example, if the receiving spouse needs alimony to get by while the divorce is pending (meaning, the court processes are ongoing and there’s no final order yet), the court can issue a temporary alimony order and instruct the paying spouse to pay alimony to the receiving spouse until the final order is issued.
When it comes to the final order, judges also have some discretion. Long-term marriages can result in an award of indefinite (permanent) alimony, while marriages that didn’t last as long might yield orders for limited duration (temporary) alimony. Permanent alimony isn’t as common as temporary alimony and is typically ordered when the receiving spouse has been financially dependent on the paying spouse for a long time and isn’t going to be able to become self-supporting. Temporary alimony, on the other hand, is intended to help the receiving spouse through the period following the divorce. For example, the receiving spouse might be ordered to use temporary alimony to complete an education or vocational training so that the spouse can become self-supporting when the alimony order ends.
Missouri is a no-fault divorce state, which means you can get a divorce in Missouri if you prove to the judge that your marriage is irretrievably broken (meaning, so badly damaged that it can’t be saved) and if you meet the residency requirements. There is no need for either spouse to blame the other, or to talk about why the marriage failed.
No-fault divorce prevents mudslinging in the courtroom and has the potential to help the parties recover more quickly than they would have if they had to testify about painful memories. Marital fault, like adultery, plays no role at all in the judge’s decision of whether to grant the divorce.
In other states, known as fault-based states, the issue of marital fault can be considered when the judge decides whether to grant a divorce. Common reasons to seek a divorce on fault-based grounds (reasons) in these states vary, but they generally include abuse, adultery, chemical dependency, and abandonment by a guilty spouse against an innocent spouse. Both spouses have the opportunity to give the judge their side of the story. If the court agrees that there was marital fault, the judge will issue a divorce order that identifies the fault and explains that it’s the reason the marriage ended.
Just because Missouri is a no-fault state doesn’t mean that marital fault like adultery is never an issue. For example, the way that spouses act during the marriage can be considered by the judge in child custody and alimony decisions. If you have any questions about the role of fault in your divorce, you should contact a family law attorney.
Judges can only award alimony if both of the following statements are true:
If both of those conditions are satisfied, judges move on to the next phase of their analysis. They consider the evidence and apply a set of factors to write an order that’s just (meaning, fair and reasonable). The factors are:
Above all, the award must be fair to both spouses. Alimony isn’t intended to punish bad behavior such as adultery. The purpose of alimony is to make sure that a spouse who isn’t self-supporting, regardless of fault, isn’t impoverished after the divorce. But as you can see, the court has to at least consider the facts about the way the spouses behaved while they were married. This means that if there’s been adultery during the marriage, it’s something the court will think about when making its decision. The judge can reduce or increase an alimony award if there’s been adultery, or even deny alimony altogether.
Keep in mind, though, that the conduct of the spouses during the marriage, including fault like adultery, and any other relevant factors, are only two of ten factors. The court has to balance any adultery against all the rest of the evidence in the case, and keep incidents of adultery in perspective when making decisions about alimony. For example, if a spouse had an adulterous affair and cleaned out the marital checking account to take an extramarital lover on a luxury vacation, the court would be more likely to treat the adultery more seriously than it would if the incident only resulted in hurt feelings. This is because the infidelity had a major impact on the spouses' finances.
Legal assistance through Legal Services of Missouri
The complete Missouri Revised Statutes