What Constitutes “Remarriage” to Terminate Maintenance?

divorce remarriage maintenance

In Missouri, maintenance terminates on certain conditions, most commonly the death or remarriage of the party receiving maintenance.

In Kunce v. Kunce, the Western District examined what qualifies as “remarriage” under the maintenance statute.

Husband and wife divorced in 2010. The court ordered husband to pay wife $1,800.00 per month in maintenance. After the divorce, wife began dating a new man, Jesse, and eventually she relocated with him to Vermont. Some ten months after her divorce, wife and Jesse filed for a domestic partnership under the laws of Vermont, principally to allow wife to receive health insurance under Jesse’s policy. Six months later, wife and Jesse had a public ceremony to celebrate their relationship, and even took out an ad in the newspaper that labeled the event a wedding. However, they never secured a marriage license and the person officiating had no authority to perform a marriage ceremony.

About a year after the ceremony, husband filed a motion to terminate maintenance on the ground that wife had remarried. At the time of the hearing on the motion, wife and Jesse were no longer a couple. The trial court denied the motion, finding that because the wife never obtained a marriage license and the person officiating had no authority to perform a marriage ceremony, wife never “remarried” under the statute.

Husband appealed to the Western District, pointing to one prior case where a former spouse remarried but had an annulment within several days but the appellate court still terminated maintenance because a remarriage occurred. The Western District distinguished this case, noting that the marriage ceremony was authorized under state law and the parties had procured a marriage license; they simply annulled the marriage afterward because of fraud. For the appellate court, the key prerequisite to “remarriage” is the legitimate procurement of a marriage license. In this case, wife and Jesse never procured a marriage license, and their ceremony, no matter how advertised, was not an authorized wedding ceremony because the person officiating had no ability to perform a wedding ceremony. As a result, husband had to continue paying maintenance.

This case highlights an issue that frustrates some spouses paying maintenance, namely, that a former spouse can live as a married person and receive all of the financial benefits but not get a marriage license and therefore continue to receive maintenance – even though the purpose of maintenance is a temporary stopgap on the road to self-sufficiency. When a former spouse moves on and moves in with a new person and shares a life and expenses together, why should maintenance continue?

This question has two answers. First, marriage is a legal act that obligates both spouses to duties of support to the other during marriage and possibly after divorce. A second marriage frees the support obligation of the spouse from the first marriage. While this seems like a strange legal fiction, (a) it is the law and (b) it makes sense in having a clear line of shift of support. Also, Missouri does not recognize common law marriage, where a couple holds itself as a married unit without an actual marriage license. But the second part of the answer to the question provides an avenue of relief – if the spouse paying maintenance can show that the new living arrangement of the former spouse is a cohabitation and intermingling of income and assets and expenses so that the new companion is essentially a new source of income that reduces the former spouses expenses, these changes in circumstances could support a reduction or even a termination of maintenance.

A final reminder: maintenance is not meant as a lifetime of support, but only a temporary compensation for a former spouse’s inability to become self-sufficient due to the nature of the marriage. At a certain point, the law will impose an expectation that the former spouse become self-sufficient and reduce maintenance (unless the former spouse lacks the capacity, due to illness or disability, to become self-sufficient).

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

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