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The division of marital property need not be equal but it must be just. The "conduct of the parties" is a statutory factor for consideration under Mo. Rev. Stat. §452.330.1(4) (1986). Marital misconduct should not serve as a basis for ordering excessive maintenance against, or inadequate marital property to, the offending spouse. The conduct factor becomes important when the conduct of one party to the marriage is such that it throws upon the other party marital burdens beyond the norms to be expected in the marital relationship. The thrust of the dissolution law is to treat the marriage as a partnership to which each spouse presumably contributes equally. When the misconduct of one party changes that balance so that the other party must assume more than his or her share of the partnership load it is appropriate that such misconduct should affect the distribution of the property of that partnership. It is logical that if one party to the partnership has, because of the other's misconduct, contributed more to the partnership, he or she should receive a greater portion of the partnership assets.
The couple had been married for about seven years when the wife became involved with her deceased sister-in-law's husband. The trial court found that the wife's marital misconduct directly contributed to the dissolution of the marriage. The marital assets were limited. Although the husband testified that he was willing to keep the marital home and pay the wife half of the accumulated equity in the home over time, the written dissolution decree effectively awarded the husband virtually all of the marital property and one item of the wife's personal property. The wife appealed.
Did the wife’s misconduct destroy her right to share in the marital assets?
The court found that while the conduct of the parties was a factor to consider in dividing marital property under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.330.1(4) (1986), the marital property division had to be just. The wife's misconduct occurred no earlier than the last two months of the marriage. The wife had contributed equally throughout the marriage to the partnership. Even though the wife's misconduct caused the marital breakup, it did not destroy her right to share in the marital assets. Thus, the decree was modified to provide that the wife, in addition to the property awarded in the decree, was to receive half of her share of the home equity.