Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)
314.727.4880

Will Jessica Have To Pay Alimony To Nick?

People Magazine reported in a recent edition that estranged celebrity couple, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, may soon do battle over whether Jessica has to provide Nick with spousal support. Viewed from the hinterlands, this may seem like just one more example of Hollywood silliness.  How does Nick Lachey, formerly of the successful pop band 98 Degrees, expect to convince a judge that he’s so down on his luck that he needs on-going support from Jessica?

 

What seems absurd to us common folk in Missouri isn’t all that out of line with current court rulings, either in St. Louis or tinsel town. In Missouri, spousal support or “alimony” is known as maintenance. Its purpose is to provide financial support to a former spouse that the court determines is unable to provide for his or her own “reasonable needs”, to quote the relevant Missouri statute.

 

The inability to support oneself can result from of any number of factors, including a lack of financial assets, some sort of physical or mental incapacity that precludes earning a living, insufficient education, training or experience for gainful employment, and/or the demands of caring for a child that would prevent outside employment. A common situation is a spouse that becomes disabled during the marriage and no longer able to work. Perhaps due to the stress of caring for the disabled spouse, the marriage withers and (usually) the healthy spouse seeks a divorce. The incapacitated spouse has few assets and only a modest disability check to live on and is an excellent candidate for maintenance.

 

Of course physical incapacity or lack of earning potential are the least of Nick Lachey’s problems. So, then, why might he win a maintenance award from Jessica? (To be fair, People quoted an unnamed friend as saying that Nick had no intention “of ever receiving spousal support” even though his divorce papers left open that possibility, according to People.) Should he decide to go for alimony, Nick’s case will rest on establishing that his own “reasonable needs” exceed his ability to pay for them.

 

The court has a lot of discretion in determining the reasonable needs of any given litigant. Among the factors considered, as listed in the Missouri statute, are the “comparative earning capacity of each spouse” and the “standard of living established during the marriage”. (Are you paying attention, Jessica?) This would undoubtedly be the basis for Nick’s petition, assuming California’s laws parallel Missouri’s.

 

People says Jessica earned a whopping $35 million in 2005, while Nick pulled down a paltry $5 mill by comparison. Likely not enough to maintain the lifestyle to which Nick became accustomed, one that was well documented on their MTV series, Newlyweds.

 

For huge earners like Jessica, the big gamble is on what the judge will decide are the “reasonable needs” of the person seeking support. Maintenance awards can have substantial, long-term financial consequences since most are “open-ended”, meaning the bill comes due every month until the receiving party either dies or remarries.

 

In my experience, in a divorce where one spouse is a high earner making considerably more than their mate, the lower earning one more often than not receives maintenance, even when he or she is earning a considerable salary on their own. For that reason, a much better paid spouse is well advised to reach an agreement with their spouse…called contractual maintenance…on an amount that he or she will pay to the other rather than let the issue go to trial. This is probably what comedienne Roseanne Barr had in mind when she agreed to what People described as a “multimillion-dollar settlement” with ex-husband and TV star, Tom Arnold.