After a 27 year marriage the parties separated and filed for divorce. The wife had been primarily a stay at-home mother and housekeeper, had a 9th grade education, GED, and no computer or clerical training or other work-related training. The husband was making $3900 per month at the time of the trial. Prior to the separation the husband had an extramarital affair and then for a few months subsequent to the separation the new girlfriend lived with the husband. The parties entered into a separation agreement. In the agreement, the husband took all of the marital debt and the parties divided all of their marital property except the husband's 401(f) retirement account. They further did not agree on wife's request for maintenance (formerly called alimony) or attorney fees. The trial court gave the wife maintenance in the amount of $550 per month, attorney fees for both the trial and for the appeal that occurred, and gave her 25% of the equity of the 401(f). The husband appealed these items.
The appellate court upheld the trial court's judgment on the maintenance, the division of the 401(k) retirement account and attorney fees. It found that even though the husband assumed all or almost all of the marital debt, the trial court was not precluded from awarding maintenance to the wife. The trial court properly considered the wife's reasonable monthly living expenses, her projected income for the future, the husband's ability to pay maintenance, and the amount and how the debt had been incurred by the parties. The appellate court also upheld the division of the 401(k). It looked at the division of the marital property (husband received 59% of the property and wife received 41%)and debt and the husband's affair before the parties separated. The appellate court agreed with the trial court that the majority of the debt that husband assumed was incurred after the separation by the husband alone.
The law in Missouri allows for a court to award attorney fees to a party in a dissolution. If a trial court does award attorney fees and it is appealed, the appellate court treats the award as presumptively correct and will only reverse if it finds that the trial court abused its discretion. It did not find abuse of discretion in this case. Here the trial court considered the husband's greater ability to pay and his conduct during the marriage and afterwards and found the award of attorney fees to the wife appropriate.
Source: Russum v. Russum, WD65741 & WD65968, Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, February 20, 2007