Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Case Law Development: A Classic Case Study of Maintenance in Long-term Marriage

In a classic case study of alimony in a long-term marriage, the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s decision to award limited, non-modifiable maintenance of $1000 a month, holding that the facts of the case could not justify such a limited award.

During their twenty-two-year marriage, Wife, at Husband’s insistence, did not work outside the home.  Without any assistance from Husband, she cares for the household and raised the children.  She also acted as Husband’s bookkeeper for his profitable trucking business (for which Husband did not pay her because it caused her to accumulate Social Security) and doted on her husband (to the point that the court notes that she bathed him and gave him regular pedicures).  After a two-year affair with a co-worker, husband filed for divorce.  The trial court awarded the vast majority of the assets to Husband and awarded Wife $1000 a month nonmodifiable maintenance for two years. Wife appealed only the maintenance.

The Court of Appeals held that $1000 a month was insufficient given the facts and suggested an award of twice that to be more appropriate.  Husband and Wife had maintained a relatively high standard of living during the marriage.  Wife’s expenses after divorce exceeded her income by approximately $4000 a month. 

Limited duration maintenance was inappropriate as “there was virtually no evidence that Wife would be able to find appropriate employment or acquire sufficient education or training within two years…. Wife has a high-school education; however, the expert witness, hired by Husband, testified that though Wife could read at the high-school level, her spelling and arithmetic were at the eighth-grade level.”  Wife was currently working two part-time jobs, but the trial court had imputed earnings to her based on a full-time job.  The appellate court found this inappropriate, as she had never held a full-time wage-earning job. “The limitation on her earnings was at Husband's insistence as he felt she should be home with the children. …. In short, at forty-five years of age and being out of the workforce for twenty years, Wife has no viable work history.”

The court noted the strict division of roles in the marriage as an additional factor favoring maintenance of a larger amount and unlimited duration.  “It was also admitted by Husband that he did not participate in any household chores, that Wife virtually did any and all household and childcare chores. On the other hand, Husband used his twenty-plus years during the marriage to build and maintain his business acumen, free from the responsibilities of caring for the household. He had no health issues and was able to produce substantial income.”

As to making the award non-modifiable, the court commented, “we are unable to conclude that there are no circumstances under which a non-modifiable order would be authorized; however, we perceive that they would be exceedingly rare.”

Van Shannon v. Shannon v. Shannon, 2005 Mo. App. LEXIS 1952 (December 30, 2005)

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