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

Refusing to Pay Your Kid’s Expenses While Paying for Your Lover’s Is Not a Good Idea

There’s a common misperception that it is legally inconsequential to initiate an “affair” after you have formally separated from your betrothed, even if you have not yet divorced.

 

However, a case just handed down in the Missouri Court of Appeals plainly and painfully illustrates that this is not always the case. It also provides a cautionary tale for any estranged husband or wife to consider before cohabitating with their new love interest.

 

The story begins in Cole County, Missouri and the case of Mark and Laurie Hart, married 22 years and the parents of three girls before divorcing in late 2005. It seems that Mr. Hart relocated to Indiana in 2003 for job reasons while his wife remained behind temporarily while the kids were in school, with plans to join him later on. However, before the wife and kids relocated, Mr. and Mrs. Hart both filed for divorce in 2004.

 

At trial, Mr. Hart admitted that he had initiated an affair with a co-worker in Indiana, but only after his wife had filed her petition for divorce, and that the co-worker had moved in with him. In addition, Mr. Hart conceded that, once he and his wife formally separated, he refused to pay for his daughters’ medical costs, college expenses or extra-curricular costs back in Missouri.

 

Perhaps not surprisingly, the divorce court took a dim view of Mr. Hart’s stinginess and awarded Mrs. Hart just over $9,800 out of Mr. Hart’s share of the marital pot as compensation, an award that Mr. Hart never challenged.

 

However, the trial judge did not stop there. It concluded that Mr. Hart was guilty of marital misconduct and that his misconduct imposed an undue burden on his wife. By making both parts of that finding, the court was empowered to award Mrs. Hart a greater proportion of the marital assets.

 

It did just that, giving the wife 53.4% of a marital estate having a total value of $575,989, thus depriving Mr. Hart of almost $20,000 in assets that would have been his in a 50-50 split. Mr. Hart cried foul and took his case to the Court of Appeals, claiming that the trial court erred in using his alleged marital misconduct as the basis for awarding a larger share of the property to his wife.

 

Interestingly, for legal intricacies not worth explaining here, the trial court did not detail the specifics of why it found that Mr. Hart had misbehaved. The Appeals Court was not so reticent.

 

In so many words, the Appellant Court concluded that Mr. Hart was guilty of two different counts of misconduct. One, his refusal to pay his children’s expenses was misconduct and placed an undue burden on his wife. Two, the extra-marital affair, even though started after the formal separation, was also misconduct.

 

However, it’s reasoning on how that affair placed an undue burden on Mrs. Hart is what is particularly interesting. When Mr. Hart’s new love interest moved in, he failed to charge her for rent or other living expenses. In addition, he occasionally paid for her travel and other expenses. The Court of Appeals reasoned that money spent on his concubine “could have been used to pay his children’s expenses and (added) to wife’s burdens.”

 

So be advised: It’s rarely a good idea not to help out with your kid’s expenses while the divorce is still unsettled, particularly when you are the family’s largest earner (as Mr. Hart was). But, to do so while also picking up the tab for your live-in lover’s expenses is likely to tempt even the most tolerant judge to make an example out of you.