Couples about to begin the divorce process often have concerns about several important topics, including spousal maintenance, which is also known as alimony. Areas of concern typically include establishing who can get maintenance, how courts determine appropriate amounts and whether it is possible to make changes later depending on circumstances.

Missouri law allows judges a wide range of discretion in making decisions about maintenance. Unlike child support, the law does not provide specific calculations.

If you need it, you have to ask for it

Divorce cases do not include the issue of maintenance automatically. A spouse who wants maintenance must specifically request it and show why he or she needs it. Discussing this issue as early as possible with your attorney can help you understand what to expect together with possible options for further action.

Meaning of reasonable needs

The law requires a spouse requesting maintenance to show he or she is otherwise unable to provide for reasonable needs. The phrase “reasonable needs” can possess a range of meanings depending on the circumstances in the case. Generally, it is not limited to basic living necessities; rather, judges tend to look to the couple’s prior joint lifestyle to see what expenses might be reasonable for them.

Why you cannot meet reasonable needs on your own

The requesting spouse must also have a valid reason why he or she cannot earn more money. Such reasons may include health conditions, lack of training or experience, caretaking responsibilities and age. Courts usually look at the entirety of the situation to determine whether they can realistically expect the requesting spouse to gain financial independence and what steps that spouse would need to take to achieve this goal.

Most people should expect temporary rather than permanent maintenance

Other relevant issues may include the ability of the other spouse to make the payments, the length of the marriage and the spouses’ respective financial resources. Unlike some other states, Missouri also considers the conduct of both spouses during the marriage.

In many cases, judges may grant maintenance for a limited time and purpose. For example, a spouse might receive payments that would enable him or her to get additional job training in order to improve earning potential. Increasingly, in Missouri and elsewhere, permanent maintenance is on its way out.