Three Years’ Maintenance Ruled Not Sufficient For Self-Sufficiency

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Maintenance on Friday, May 17, 2013

Last week, the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals decided an interesting case dealing with maintenance, a topic we have discussed in detail recently.

Husband and wife had been married fourteen years before husband filed for divorce. During the marriage, wife worked as a hair stylist and started a salon that became successful enough to support the couple; however, the salon began to lose money as customers aged or moved away. By the time husband and wife separated, the salon was in debt and wife earned no income. Wife did not work for two years due to depression. Wife did return to work as a stylist on a part-time basis shortly before the case went to trial. The trial court found that wife did require maintenance, but only for a limited three-year period, as the trial court believed that after three years wife should be able to support herself through her work as a stylist.

Wife appealed, claiming she required maintenance for a longer duration. The Eastern District agreed, noting that husband presented no evidence that wife would be able to have a successful salon in three years, and that simply because she had a successful salon in the past was no indication she would have one in under three years into the future, particularly since the previous salon failed. The Eastern District removed the limitation of three years, but also made the maintenance modifiable so that husband could return to court to reduce or terminate maintenance if wife did become self-sufficient.

This case teaches that courts view non-modifiable term maintenance with particular care, because the assumptions supporting the limited term may not be based on the evidence. It is possible that husband could have made a stronger case by putting on additional evidence, including testimony of a vocational rehabilitation expert, who could have given a factual basis for concluding self-sufficiency in three years was reasonable. Also, husband could have introduced evidence of alternative sources of income – wife could work in other capacities besides a hair stylist, and she need not work as an independent contractor but could have worked for an established salon at a reasonable income that included at least 40 hours of work per week.

So, while courts do reserve non-modifiable maintenance for clear cases of a return to self-sufficiency, setting limits on the time or amount of maintenance based on imputed income rests on the ability to put forth solid evidence of the spouse receiving maintenance to become self-sufficient through a variety of means. In this case, counsel seemed to develop a thin evidentiary record – a strong warning that if you plan to litigate maintenance, you must be prepared to show the educational and employment capacities of your spouse, even though the law puts the burden on the spouse seeking maintenance to prove need.

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

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