Judges are directed in this task by state statute and guided in detail by the case law as explained in numerous Kansas court opinions.
In recent years, some states have enacted major reforms of their alimony laws. Those reforms in general have reigned in the flexibility and discretion in judges’ power to craft awards.
But in Kansas, judges retain relatively broad discretion under the law to create maintenance awards that judges feel will meet the needs of divorcing couples. This responsibility is immense not only because of the impact these decisions have on families, but also because the Kansas Supreme Court has said that a maintenance award will not be reversed on appeal unless there has been “clear abuse” of discretion.
Kansas maintenance statute
State statute uses the term “maintenance” to mean alimony. A broadly worded state statute allows a judge to order either party to pay alimony in an amount “fair, just and equitable under all of the circumstances.” The payments can be calculated and paid in a lump sum, periodic payments, as a percentage of earnings or any other way.
(A few Kansas counties provide advisory guidelines for awarding maintenance, but these are not binding on judges.)
Kansas law does not specify what factors a judge is to consider in awarding maintenance, but the Kansas Supreme Court in Williams v. Williams created an eight-factor test for judges that specifies relevant factors a judge may, but not must, weigh. These factors are:
- Parties’ ages
- Parties’ earning capabilities, now and future
- Parties’ property
- Parties’ needs
- “Time, source, and manner” in which property is acquired
- “Family ties and obligations”
- Parties’ financial situations
However, if other relevant factors exist in a particular divorce, a judge is presumably allowed to consider them in the alimony equation.
Unique durational provision
Kansas law limits a maintenance award to 121 months maximum (10 years plus one month). A party may ask the court before the first (or a subsequent) 121-month period expires for an extension for up to another 121-month period, so long as the original court order reserves jurisdiction to so order.
Instead of having the judge decide matters of maintenance, the parties may enter into a separation agreement in which they settle the terms of their divorce, including alimony. They normally would negotiate this agreement through their respective attorneys. While they may be creative in the terms of such an agreement, it is a good idea to seek careful guidance from an attorney because certain provisions must be carefully considered.
This article is a broad introduction to a very complex legal issue and the advice of an experienced Kansas attorney is recommended.
The family lawyers of Stange Law Firm, PC, represent clients in divorce and other family law matters in Kansas as well as in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and Oklahoma.