Missouri Legal Reform Would Bring Maintenance Law into 21st Century

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February 19, 2020 by Linda Reutzel, National Parents Organization of Missouri

A clear, responsible and elegantly written maintenance policy reform has been filed by Senator Ed Emery in the Missouri Senate.  His legislation, SB 961, updates an out-of-date law that was last substantially updated in the early 1970’s. 

Senator Emery’s bill would set durational limits and allow for a rehabilitative plan to get training or degrees for employment, and allow maintenance to be awarded for a party to bridge to a secure lifestyle; however, a judge could over-rule the limits or terminate a plan when it was determined that it was not being implemented. When a judge does not follow the limits, the court would be required to put the reason why in writing.The need for this provision, and indeed, the overall bill, is simple:

Current law is ambiguous, lacks definition, and both payors and recipients cite instances where court-room decisions are arbitrary and unfair so that similarly situated parties are not treated equally under the law.  Both genders face the potential for an unfair outcome.  It is also simple common-sense that in today’s courtrooms judges are reluctant to provide for maintenance reform to bridge to an independent lifestyle,because once a maintenance order is granted, it is hard to end. 

Without bright lines and more uniform outcomes, it is understandably difficult for both parties to enter into reasonable settlement agreements.  Instead the current law enables repeated litigation with inconsistent results.  This hurts children who suffer from watching their parents return to court. Inevitably, children are the collateral damage. Their parents struggle with the animosity and anger that results from repeatedly hitting the financial and emotional wound from ending a marriage.  This prevents families from moving on with their lives, and causes deep rifts.

However, Google “maintenance law in Missouri,”  and you will see some family law firms touting concerns with prior legislative reforms that have been before the Missouri Assembly.  While some lawyers agree that the law needs reforming because there is a difference between following the law and making sure a client is well-served, some appear to be comfortable with the system and resistant to reform.

In the midst of all of this, Senator Emery’s bill stands out as a consensus measure  in the 2020 legislative session in Missouri.  Of note, this legislation, while affirming the needs of families, also ensures both men and women are treated fairly and equitably under the law. Women are continuing to enter the workforce and fighting for financial independence and equal pay.  Other women choose to work within the home and these choices, while different,  should both be respected, especially under the law: Women should not fear that they will suffer negative ramifications down the road during the legal process, should a marriage come to an end. 

Senator Emery’s legislation affirms both the payee and the payor, which also has a positive impact on the children.  Specifically,SB 961 creates three categories of spousal maintenance orders:

“Bridge” maintenance orders: May be awarded for a marriage having a duration of less than 7 years, for no more than 2 years.

“Rehabilitative” maintenance orders:  May be awarded to assist a party in developing or redeveloping workforce skills and a career plan and shall not exceed four years.

“Durational” maintenance orders:  May be awarded to provide for the needs and necessities of a party . A durational maintenance order shall not remain in effect for more than: (1) 5 years, if the marriage lasted 7 to less than 10 years; (2) 7 years, if the marriage lasted 10 to less than 17 years: and (3) 10 years, if the marriage lasted 17 or more years. A Judge can put in writing his or her reason for modifying an order. *

This bill updates an old law in a common-sense manner to restore fairness and clarity.  Children will be better served, adults will have closure, specificity and the necessary financial support, judges will have a clearer law to interpret, and as for the lawyers… while some family court attorneys are fully on board, let’s all do our part to reassure the others that they will not go out of business.

*Source: Missouri Senate Research

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