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Divorce after short marriage limits property and alimony claims

When a husband makes three times the income of his wife and he generously helps her to pay off a boat load of debt, including substantial student loans, will that reverberate to his credit in a divorce action started by the wife just two years after they were married? This scenario or a similar version of it often comes up in Missouri divorce cases. In this example, it is also noted that the wife communicated to the husband that she was going to take the house and his retirement, along with requesting alimony.

With respect to paying off the debt, there is generally no theory of law that will favor the husband. The marriage, validly entered into, resulted in the couple likely putting their income checks into a joint marital account. Whatever they paid from the marital funds is not reimbursable at a later date.

Will the husband have any better luck on the other issues? If the home was titled in joint names, it is marital property with a starting presumption that it will be divided equally. This usually means that it will be sold and the net proceeds equally distributed.

If the husband solely owned the house prior to the marriage and it remains in his name alone, it may arguably be his separate property. Generally, the wife would have an interest in the increase in value of the asset during the period of the marriage. That value would be measured from the date of marriage to the date of separation, but if the value went down during that two-year period she would have no claim.

The wife would have little or no claim to alimony due to the shortness of the marriage. Alimony is usually rehabilitative in nature and is stopped when the recipient spouse can make a living. In this case, she already has an occupation and is employed, further narrowing any chance for alimony.  With respect to the retirement benefits under Missouri divorce law, the wife may assert a claim, but if the court awards anything it will be limited to a proportionate amount that accrued only during the two years of the marriage.

Source:, "I paid off my wife's student loans; then she filed for divorce after two years of marriage", Quentin Fottrell, April 22, 2018

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