Alimony (known as "maintenance" in Missouri) is intended to provide some financial assistance for a spouse who needs it during the divorce process and for a period of time after the final divorce. If you or your spouse is (or will be) requesting alimony as part of the process of filing for divorce in Missouri, you should understand how it works and how judges make alimony decisions—even if you hope to reach an agreement on the issue and avoid a trial (more on that below).
Basically, there are three kinds of alimony (or "maintenance") in Missouri:
Judges may order one spouse to pay temporary maintenance while the divorce process is underway. Typically, temporary alimony continues until the divorce is final. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.315(1) (2023).)
Short-term alimony is the most common type of maintenance in Missouri. Its goal is to provide financial help until the supported spouse can find employment. Without that assistance, a lower-earning spouse may not be able to take the time needed to gain the proper training and job skills to improve employment prospects.
You'll typically see short-term alimony when one spouse has stepped away from outside employment while raising the couple's children, taking care of other homemaking duties, or helping further the other spouse's career during the marriage.
Permanent alimony was once common, but it's becoming increasingly rare in Missouri and most other states. These days, this type of long-term maintenance is generally reserved for spouses who, after a lengthy marriage, have poor employment prospects because of ill health or age.
Sometimes, judges will order short-term alimony for a certain period of time, followed by a lower amount for an indefinite period. For instance, a judge may conclude that this type of "step-down" maintenance is appropriate when a spouse needs time to prepare for employment but is unlikely to become completely self-supporting even after getting a job.
Permanent maintenance doesn't necessarily mean that the payments will continue forever. It simply means that the court's order doesn't set a time when the payments will end. Certain events automatically terminate alimony, and a paying spouse may generally return to court to ask that payments stop (more below on both of those issues).
When spouses request maintenance in a Missouri divorce, the judges must first decide whether they:
If a spouse meets both of those qualifications, the judge must then decide how much maintenance to award and how long it should last, after considering all of the relevant factors, including:
(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.335 (2023).)
Although the list of factors includes the spouses' conduct during the marriage, the purpose of alimony isn't to punish one spouse. So bad conduct doesn't normally have a significant effect on the judge's decision. But it might have a greater impact on the outcome if the misconduct affected the couple's financies, such as when one spouse emptied the marital savings account to take a lover on a luxury vacation.
When judges are deciding whether to award temporary maintenance during a divorce in Missouri, they must use the same criteria, and consider the same factors (outlined above), as when they're ruling on a request for maintenance after the divorce. (Camden v. Camden, 844 S.W.2d 75 (Mo. Ct. App. 1992).)
Under Missouri law, either spouse may request a maintenance award. If one spouse needs financial help and the other can afford to pay it, the judge will order the higher-earning spouse to pay alimony to the lower-earning spouse, regardless of their genders.
Temporary alimony ends when the divorce is finalized.
Generally, short-term maintenance will end when on a date set in the judge's order. Sometimes, the order will state that the payments will end when something happens, such as when the recipient gets a full-time job. But if the recipient doesn't make a good-faith effort to seek employment, the paying spouse may seek a modification (as discussed below).
Any type of alimony, including permanent maintenance, will end when either spouse dies or the receiving spouse remarries. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.370(3) (2023).)
Maintenance awards typically call for periodic payments (usually monthly). However, if the payor spouse can afford it, the judge may allow that spouse to pay the total amount of maintenance in a lump sum.
Unless a couple has reached an agreement on the issue, the judge will decide how spouses should pay the maintenance. When spouses are supposed to make the payments directly to the receiving spouse, all too often they're late with those payments. So judge will typically either:
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 452.345(2), 452.350 (2023).)
A spouse who isn't receiving alimony payments on time may file a motion (a written legal request) with the court for help recovering the payments. Delinquent spouses could face consequences such as losing a driver's license, having their bank accounts or tax refunds garnished, or being held in contempt of court, which can result in fines or even jail time.
You may request a change in alimony unless the court order states that the maintenance is not modifiable. But even if you're allowed to seek a modification, you'll need to prove that there's been a substantial and continuing change of circumstances that happened before the maintenance payments were set to end. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.335(3) (2023).)
For example, a paying spouse may be able to justify a modification if that spouse was laid off or became disabled. Also, if the original order provided that maintenance payments would continue until the recipient got a full-time job, that spouse's failure to make good-faith efforts at finding employment might qualify as a substantial change of circumstances. (Hicks v. Hicks, 798 S.W.2d 524 (Mo. Ct. App. 1990).)
Be aware that unless you and your spouse have an agreement about the proposed changes, alimony modification proceedings usually involve complicated legal issues that are best handled by an experienced family law attorney.
If your divorce was final before 2019, the paying spouse may continue to deduct alimony payments for purposes of federal income taxes, and the receiving spouse must report those payments as income. However, for all couples who divorced after 2018, the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated any tax deduction or income reporting requirements for alimony. That means the Internal Revenue Service won't count alimony payments as income for the recipient, and the paying spouse won't get the deduction.
As with all other issues in your divorce, you and your spouse always have the option of reaching a settlement agreement that addresses whether one of you will pay alimony and, if so, how much the payments will be, the payment method, how long the maintenance will last, and whether either of you may seek a modification in the future.
If you're having trouble agreeing about any of these issues, divorce mediation can help you resolve your differences. And if you're hesitant about negotiating a compromise, it may help to know that going to trial increases the cost of divorce exponentially, as well as making the process more stressful and take longer.