The Cost of One Word


After a 24 year marriage, the divorce between Dr. Simpson and his wife was finalized in 2005. The divorce decree contained an agreement between the parties that maintenance would continue for a 15-year period and would terminate only upon the death of either party.

The former Mrs. Simpson remarried in 2009 and Dr. Simpson filed a motion requesting the circuit court terminate the previously ordered maintenance on the grounds that the separation agreement was contrary to Missouri law. Dr. Simpson specifically relied on section 452.370.3 which provides that "[u]nless otherwise agreed in writing or expressly provided in the judgment, the obligation to pay future statutory maintenance is terminated upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the party receiving maintenance."

Unfortunately for Dr. Simpson, the Supreme Court ruled that he would have to continue paying $12,000 per month in maintenance to his ex-wife pursuant to the separation agreement despite her remarriage. The Court found that, because the separation agreement was not silent as to the effect of remarriage or death, the statutory presumption against maintenance following remarriage or death was not overcome. Although the separation agreement did not mention the effect of remarriage, the Court held that the parties agreed that the only event which would terminate maintenance was the death of either party. The Court's held that the use of the word "only" specifically excluded all other events other than those listed in the separation agreement.

While the Court's decision was correct, the case highlights an important part of every legal situation in which negotiations are essential – the necessity for counsel to adequately review every word of a legal document, contract, plea agreement, etc. The Whiteley Law Firm will ensure that every binding document that requires a client's assent is fully explained, effectuates their wishes, and contains no provisions which may later cause difficulty. If your legal situation requires an experienced attorney to draft or review a contract, call Attorney Kevin Whiteley today.