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A Maintenance Award Must Be Based on Evidence: Doyle v. Doyle, a new case issued by the Southern District Court of Appeals in Mi

Case being tried in a full courtroom

In this case, the wife was awarded maintenance of $750 per month, non-modifiable and husband appealed and alleged that there was insufficient evidence to support an award of maintenance or, alternatively, if maintenance was appropriately awarded, the amount of maintenance awarded was inappropriate. The parties had been married for more than twenty-five years when the husband filed for divorce. The parties had four children, three of whom were emancipated and the youngest child was sixteen years old. Wife provided evidence that throughout a large portion of the marriage she had stayed at home to be the primary care provider to the parties’ four children and it was only in the past few years that she had sought and obtained a certificate in early childhood development and made a salary slightly above minimum wage. The trial court did acknowledge that upon the divorce becoming final, the wife would receive her share of the husband’s military pension, in an amount less than $500.00 per month.

The court issued findings of fact and a judgment in the case. The court reviewed the wife’s needs and found that she had put together a “bare bones” budget that did not include car repairs, dental, medical or vision expenses, emergencies, gifts, car payments, vacations, or any accounting for retirement or savings. The court further considered that during the marriage, the parties had cars, a boat a nice house and a very different lifestyle than wife enjoyed presently. The trial court indicated that after it considered all of the factors stated in 452.335 RSMo (the maintenance statute), that wife was appropriately entitled to $750 per month in maintenance.

In analyzing the Doyle’s situation, the Court of Appeals stated pursuant to 452.335 RSMo that in order to award maintenance, the trial court must find that the spouse (1) lacks sufficient property, including marital property apportioned to him or her, to provide for his or her reasonable needs; and (2) is unable to support himself or herself through appropriate employment. See § 452.335.1(1-2). A trial court must follow the two-part threshold test set out in section 452.335.1 when awarding maintenance. Ross, 231 S.W.3d at 884.

When husband argued that the wife failed to “prove” up her need for maintenance, the court of appeals discussed the process of proving up reasonable need. Specifically, they stated,

“There is, of course, a routine procedure for proving ‘reasonable needs.’ It starts with (1) each party’s statement of income and expenses, and (2) each party’s statement of marital and non-marital property and liabilities. In projecting expenses, each party seeks to express the anticipated expenses that accord to the desired standard of living. At trial, the expense and income statements are updated and sometimes disputed. The trial judge then decides what is appropriate and reasonable in light of the relevant factors, including those listed in the statute. It is seldom a matter of mathematical precision, and expense submissions are not required to be based on strict necessity. The purpose is to achieve a just result in light of the relevant considerations. Obviously, expense statements and accompanying testimony are important tools for helping determine reasonable needs; but they are not the only evidence the court can consider in this determination. Section 452.335, after all, does not mention ‘income and expense statements.’ Id. (emphasis in original).”

In conclusion in this case, while the court noted that the wife had put on significant evidence in the record, the Court of Appeals remanded the case for the trial court to take additional evidence about the wife’s reasonable needs. The learning lesson from this case? It is important that you hire a knowledgeable and seasoned family law attorney to make sure appropriate and adequate evidence is provided to the trial court to allow it support any requests that are made. Call Pingel Family Law today at (816) 208-8130 if we can discuss your case or situation involving how to address a claim for or defend against a request for maintenance.