How Can I Modify My Maintenance Payment? (Part One)

Motion to Modify, St Louis Divorce Attorneys

You are paying your former spouse maintenance and you would like to pay less. Can you? Under what circumstances does the law allow you to lower your maintenance?

You are receiving maintenance from your former spouse and you feel you need more. Can you get more? Under what circumstances does the law allow you to increase your maintenance?

In Missouri, a spouse looking to change maintenance must show “changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms” of the existing maintenance amount “unreasonable.” In examining whether such a change has occurred, the court must consider “all financial resources of both parties, including 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, and the earning capacity of a party who is not employed.”

To understand what would qualify for a change in maintenance, one must understand how Missouri considers maintenance from a legal standpoint. Unlike the “old days” of alimony and patriarchal assumptions that a husband must always financially support his wife, maintenance today is not considered a permanent financial stipend but rather a temporary order designed to help the spouse receiving maintenance make ends meet until that spouse can become self-sufficient. Unless incapacitated or disabled, a spouse receiving maintenance has a duty to pursue suitable employment and become self-sufficient. The failure alone to make reasonable efforts to do so can form the basis for a reduction in maintenance.

Courts receive statements of property and statements of income and expenses from the parties. When looking at a party receiving maintenance, the court looks first at the reasonableness of the expenses – those that are deemed unnecessary, extravagant or unwise are not counted; maintenance usually focuses on necessities, though the court may have considered a certain standard of living at the time of the original award. After finding a sum of reasonable expenses, the court looks to income – is the recipient employed? If not, how long has that party been unemployed? What efforts has that party taken toward employment? What is the educational background of the party? The court needs to determine what this party reasonably could earn in the job market today. If the party has skills but has made no real effort to pursue those skills in employment, the court can impute to the party income the court believes the party should be earning. Any disparity between income and expenses would qualify for maintenance.

In our next post, we will explain how courts apply these factors and how that impacts your chance of success.

If you have questions about modifying maintenance, contact us – we can help.