These are common questions that lead to frequent misunderstandings about divorce and adultery laws in Missouri.
The short answers are: (1) Missouri is NOT a no fault state but is considered a “modified no fault state;” and (2) infidelity can (but may not) affect your case.
As a so-called “modified no fault statute,” our lawmakers kept the word “conduct” in certain statutes pertaining to divorce. Missouri statutes provide that “conduct,” is a relevant factor for the court to consider regarding the equitable (not equal) division of marital property and debt, and is also a relevant factor relating to the award of maintenance (spousal support). Misconduct can permeate other aspects of the case such as child custody and attorneys’ fees.
Bad conduct, such as infidelity, can but will not always impact a case. Examples of other “bad conduct” include physical, verbal and emotional abuse, dissipation or hiding of money or property. The unique facts of each case, and the judge assigned to the case, may determine whether or not a judge will be influenced enough by infidelity (or other bad conduct) to equitably divide property and debt in favor of the party who’s conduct was better.
Similarly, misconduct such as infidelity can impact an award of maintenance although the law is less than clear as to the extent of the impact on a maintenance award. Some may argue that the amount and duration of maintenance should be affected. However, case law would seem to suggest that despite significant infidelity or other bad conduct, the duration of the award should not be affected. A few states have taken a different position on this issue, particularly in cases involving extreme financial misconduct such as embezzlement. A Missouri case many years ago wrestled with the impact on her request for temporary maintenance and attorneys’ fees of the wife’s alleged hiring of a hit man to kill her husband.
As to the amount of maintenance, an award can be no greater than a party’s so-called “reasonable needs,” but in practice a court does not have to award all of those needs regardless of the issue of infidelity or other misconduct. If there has been significant infidelity (or other serious misconduct) a judge would, in theory, have the discretion to lower the amount.
As always, it is important to discuss the facts of your case with an experienced family law attorney in order to decide what investigation should be undertaken into this emotional area and whether or not the facts of your case may impact the outcome whether by trial or negotiation.