Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Case Law Development: Allegations of Wife's Attempted Murder of Husband Do Not State a Claim for Terminating His Maintenance Obligation
The Missouri Supreme Court affirms the dismissal of an ex-husband's petition to terminate maintenance based on his allegations that wife had sought to have him murdered. The couple had agreed to a non-modifiable maintenance term in their divorce decree. The Supreme Court noted that Missouri statutes provide that such an agreement, when found conscionable and incorporated into a divorce decree, binds the court:
A non-modification provision can cut both ways. No one can know which party will need more or deserve less as time passes. As with all contract terms, a non-modification provision is an agreed allocation of future risk, bargained for and for which consideration is exchanged. The Missouri legislature has seen fit to allow such a clause to be elevated from contractual to judicial status by incorporation into the dissolution decree. We are bound to respect the statute and to enforce these documents as agreed to and ordered.
The court rejected husband's argument that a court may reconsider the conscionability of the agreement based on later events. It likewise found that waiver was inapplicable as the attempt to murder husband would not establish a "clear and unequivocal attempt to relinquish her contractual right to maintenance so long as [husband] is living." Finally, the court rejected the application of the public policy doctrine which prohibits an individual from receiving death benefits when they have murdered their spouse. Reasoning that wife would not benefit from the successful murder of husband, the court found these cases inapplicable.
Richardson v. Richardson, 2007 Mo. LEXIS 39 (March 20, 2007)
Opinion on web (last visited March 20, 2007 bgf)