Missouri Legislature Seeks To Reform Spousal Support

Missouri divorce laws

Representative Jim Neely has introduced a bill in the Missouri General Assembly that seeks to bring significantly more structure to awards of maintenance (or spousal support).

Currently, a court can award a spouse maintenance that is non-modifiable (also considered contractual) and modifiable (considered statutory). The court must find that the spouse lacks sufficient property to provide for his or her reasonable needs and lacks the ability to support himself or herself through appropriate employment. The court considers a variety of factors in awarding maintenance, including the financial circumstances of each party, the standard of living during the marriage, the length of the marriage, the time required to obtain suitable employment, the age and health of the parties, and the conduct of the parties during the marriage.

The new bill, HB194, would put some limits on maintenance awards. First, it requires the court to state whether maintenance is bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, or durational. Based on the category, the court can only award maintenance for certain periods of time.

Bridge-the-gap maintenance is awarded to a party in a short-term marriage, which the bill defines as one that lasts less than seven years. It is designed “to assist a party with legitimate, identifiable short-term needs” and may not exceed two years in duration. It is not modifiable in amount or duration.

Rehabilitative maintenance is awarded to a party leaving a short-term marriage (less than seven years) or a moderate-term marriage (seven to seventeen years) and is designed to allow the spouse time for redevelopment of previous skills or credentials or the acquisition of new education, training or work experience to develop appropriate employment skills or credentials. Rehabilitative maintenance requires a specific and defined rehabilitative plan the recipient must follow, and the duration of maintenance may not exceed four years. It may be modified upon a substantial change in circumstances, noncompliance with the rehabilitative plan or completion of the rehabilitative plan.

Durational maintenance may be awarded to a party leaving a moderate-term (seven to seventeen years) or long-term (more than seventeen years) marriage and is designed to provide for the needs and necessities of life as established during the marriage. Durational maintenance may not exceed five years for a marriage of 7-10 years; seven years for a marriage of 10-17 years, and 10 years for a marriage longer than 17 years. The only exception would be a physical or mental disability or another compelling substantial impediment to earning sufficient income to provide for the spouse’s minimum reasonable needs.

Any maintenance order would be subject to modification or termination if it can be shown that the recipient and another person have entered into a supportive relationship that is the functional equivalent of marriage that has existed for at least twelve months of an eighteen month period.

HB194 seeks to pull the maintenance statute in line with what the courts have deemed the purpose of maintenance – to provide a bridge to self-sufficiency, not a permanent stipend of support. The current statute gives little guidance as to how to determine self-sufficiency and how long a spouse needs to obtain it. Parties frequently litigate whether a spouse has made true efforts to become self-supporting; the current bill would create rebuttable presumptions of short, moderate and long term marriages, and suitable awards of maintenance for people capable of pursuing employment. Also, by having a delineated rehabilitative plan, both spouses know the expectation of the purpose and duration of such maintenance and could return to court if the recipient spouse is not complying with the plan.

HB194 still leaves courts discretion to determine the requisite amount of maintenance in any award, and also to provide for those spouses the court finds incapable of supporting themselves.

The bill has already had a public hearing, and we will continue to follow its progress as the legislative session moves to its end in the next six weeks.

If you have questions about changes in the law of maintenance, contact us – we can help.