By: Alan Freed
When a Missouri court orders one former spouse to pay maintenance (alimony) to the other former spouse, that order typically is “modifiable,” which means that if circumstances change, the court can increase, decrease, or terminate the obligation to pay maintenance. Typically, those changes of circumstances include substantial increases or decreases in income, job changes, disability, retirement, and other major life events.
The statute on modification says that, when considering whether a modification is called for, the court must look at “the extent to which the reasonable expenses of either party are, or should be, shared by a spouse or other person with whom he or she cohabits.”
Until now, the “cohabitation” relationships a court could consider were limited to those that either resembled marriage, or that involved people engaged in a romantic relationship. That view changed on May 26, 2020, when the Missouri Court of Appeals decided Davis v. Davis.
In the Davis case, which I argued on behalf of the maintenance-paying ex-spouse, the maintenance recipient lived with her adult son and the son’s friend. The court agreed with our position that an adult living with a person who receives maintenance should contribute to the expenses for running the household regardless of whether that relationship was romantic or “mimicked” marriage. If those housemates were paying a fair share of expenses such as utilities, the court reasoned, the maintenance recipient would not need as much support from the ex-spouse.
Davis is the first reported case in Missouri in which a court has ordered the contribution of a non-romantic partner to be taken into account in determining the appropriate amount of maintenance. This ruling suggests courts may now look at contributions from other adult housemates, including relatives, friends, and boarders, who are the indirect beneficiaries of the maintenance-payor’s monthly payments.
As stated by the Court of Appeals, adults sharing a house “should share in the payment of [the maintenance recipient’s] reasonable expenses.”
Maintenance is intended to pay for the reasonable expenses of the person receiving those payments. That person’s ex-spouse should not be required to help cover the expenses of people they were never married to, even if that includes the couple’s adult child.