In a recent article in Forbes, Emma Johnson argues that judges look “with suspicion” at requests for maintenance and expect women to work, thereby negating the need for maintenance. She bases her argument in part on major shifts in the job market toward equality for women in the workplace, and the present reality that most married households have two wage earners. She asserts this trend holds even for women who have been stay-at-home moms and out of the workplace for a lengthy period of time.
Does this trend hold true here in Missouri?
Yes and no.
In general, Missouri no longer sees maintenance as some form of entitlement to a lesser-earning spouse. Rather, maintenance awards are only appropriate when the spouse seeking maintenance cannot meet his or her reasonable needs through property awarded in the divorce and employment. Missouri considers every spouse capable of employment as having a duty to pursue employment. So, where both spouses worked during the marriage, courts will likely not see maintenance as appropriate (one exception: where the parties have had a long marriage and one spouse has a significantly higher income that created an expectancy in a certain type of lifestyle).
In the case of a stay-at-home spouse, the court will examine the circumstances to see if the parties agreed that one spouse would forego employment to care for the children. If so, and the spouse could not easily transition back into the workforce without retraining or at a much lower salary, and if the marriage has been for a lengthy duration, the court would be much more open to maintenance.
Even in cases where one spouse has long been out of work, so long as that spouse has the ability to work, courts will insist that spouse pursue full-time employment and self-sufficiency. The intentional failure to pursue suitable employment can justify terminating maintenance.
The income situation of the spouse requesting maintenance is not the only factor; the courts also look to the earnings of the spouse who would have to pay maintenance, and if those earnings are not sufficient to pay maintenance, the court will be less inclined to enter an award of maintenance.
While the article in Forbes overstates the case of stay-at-home parents becoming essentially ineligible for maintenance as to spouses divorcing in Missouri, the article correctly notes that maintenance has shifted to an only-as-needed supplement to cover the shortfall a spouse could not cover through reasonable employment, and the court will go so far as to impute income to an unemployed spouse commensurate with that spouse’s earning capacity based on prior education and work experience.
If you have questions about maintenance, contact us – we can help.