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DIVORCE 101 – Maintenance: What is it, can I get it (or why should I pay it)?

By Alan Freed

What most of the rest of the country (and the IRS) calls “alimony,” Missouri law refers to as “maintenance.” No matter what term you use, we’re talking about support that is paid by one divorced spouse to that person’s former spouse. Every state has different laws controlling this concept and Missouri’s law may surprise you.

A person seeking maintenance in Missouri has to show that she (or he—Missouri’s laws are gender neutral) is unable to support him or herself. (To make this discussion easier, I’m going to assume that the person seeking maintenance is the wife.) That means that the person seeking maintenance has to prove two things: what are her expenses and how much can she earn towards meeting those expenses. If the amount of expenses is greater than the amount of money she can earn, then she is on the road to being awarded maintenance.

But, not so fast. What about the husband’s ability to pay maintenance? The court also needs to consider what the paying party’s expenses are and what his ability is to meet those expenses. If there is not enough money to support two households, sometimes courts will simply divide whatever money is available, recognizing that both people will find themselves short of cash.

If the person seeking maintenance is not employed or is only working part-time, a court can “impute” income to her, which means to treat her as if she had a job commensurate with her skills.

If a court orders maintenance, it will typically be an open-ended, “modifiable” order, which means that the maintenance payments will continue until the recipient remarries, either one of the couple dies, or a “substantial and continuing change of circumstances” occurs, such as a significant increase or decrease in the income of the paying or recipient spouse. If that happens, either of the parties can ask a court to increase, decrease, or terminate the obligation.

If a case gets settled without a trial, the two sides can agree upon “contractual” maintenance on whatever terms they can agree upon, such as a limited term (five years, ten years, etc.).

Finally, maintenance payments, unlike child support, are taxable to the recipient as income and deductible from the payor’s taxable income.

Maintenance can be complicated and confusing. You should discuss this topic with an experienced divorce attorney to get a more thorough understanding.


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