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

Court Does Fast Shuffle On Woman Seeking Maintenance

A recent decision by Missouri’s Southern District Court of Appeals, out of Springfield, MO, sets a disturbing precedent for men or women needing financial support from their ex-mates (i.e. “maintenance” or “alimony”).

 

In Koch v Koch, a woman divorcing a doctor in Osage Beach was denied spousal support because the trial court found, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, that her reasonable needs for living could be met on the $10 to $12 hour the court believed to be her earnings potential. The woman had argued that her likely wages would be $8/hour, based on her earnings when she and her husband had separated previously.

 

Quibbling about the difference between $8 and $10-12 an hour seems pointless. Let’s assume the mid-point: $10/hour. This provides a monthly wage of $1,733 or $20,800 a year before taxes. I know the cost of living is less “out there” than in St. Louis, but $21K seems a paltry sum to cover food, rent, utilities, transportation and clothing, not to mention an occasional night at the movies.

 

Even so, this isn’t the most troubling aspect of Koch v. Koch. Instead, it was what the court excluded from Ms. Koch’s estimate of her living costs and why.

 

George and Christine Koch married in 1993, while George was in medical school. Through loans to George, and his wife’s earnings, they paid their living expenses and medical school tuition. Along the way, they had two children. After the husband finished medical school and his residency, he took a position at a hospital in Osage Beach. In 2003, the husband filed for divorce and, after a two-day trial, the marriage was dissolved.

 

At trial, Christine Koch asked for spousal support, saying her monthly living expenses of $6,000 to $7,000 could not be met on an $8/hour wage, while contending that her husband’s earnings as doctor would be sufficient to pay her maintenance. Her argument fit the three-prong test for awarding maintenance: What is the person’s reasonable needs, can they be met by income produced by the person’s job or their property, and does the other spouse have the ability to pay?

 

At trial and on appeal, both courts determined no maintenance should be awarded, largely because they excluded much of what the wife had submitted as her monthly living expenses. Some of the exclusions were typical and well-founded, such $798/month for the support a child born of previous relationship and $400/month for their children’s health insurance because they had ordered the husband to pay the premium. As is often the case, they also excluded $1800 in expense for rearing their 2 kids, and instead ordered the husband to pay $2300 in monthly child support.

 

However, Christine Koch had also submitted $2440 in monthly housing cost based upon what had been the couple’s actual expense for the mortgage, insurance, taxes and upkeep for the marital home. She also submitted $285 in transportation expense based upon the monthly loan payment for the family vehicle, a Chevy Avalanche.

 

The court excluded these costs as well saying she no longer had them because the court was giving both the home and the Avalanche to the husband in the divorce. I have one word for this reasoning: Incredible! Apparently, in the court’s opinion, Ms. Koch has no need for a place to live or the funds to pay for one.

 

The lesson here for attorneys is to make sure projections of future living expenses include alternative scenarios in the event the court awards certain essentials to the other party. Christine Koch, like most people, cited her actual expense during the marriage as the basis for her projection. Most courts recognize that these costs don’t go away when the house or car is given to the other party and provide funds for these necessities in the maintenance award. But now we have a precedent that says a judge doesn’t have to do the sensible thing if he/she is looking for a way to deny spousal support.