Court: Allegation that ex-wife tried to hire hit man can't change divorce

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A man who claims his ex-wife tried to hire a hit man to kill him will have to keep paying her more than $2,400 a month after the Supreme Court ruled their divorce agreement can't be changed.

Joseph Richardson -- whose ex-wife, Ida Richardson, has not been charged with trying to have him killed -- argued that there are exceptions that allow a fixed separation agreement to be changed. Under the former couple's agreement, he must pay her $2,425 a month until she remarries or either of them dies.

A lower court dismissed the case after ruling the agreement could not be changed, and the Supreme Court agreed.

Joseph Richardson's attorney, Chet Pleban of St. Louis, said there is enough evidence to warrant making changes. He argued before the Supreme Court in December that people should not be allowed to profit from bad acts, and that it's wrong to not allow a judge to reconsider an agreement if circumstances warrant.

"Does she have to kill him before we say, 'Time out, there's a public policy violation here'?" Pleban said.

The court noted that if the woman had her ex-husband killed, her monthly payments would stop, so such action couldn't be seen as motivated by profit. The court also said the case is separate from any potential claims regarding insurance policies or other funds that are payable upon death.

The ex-wife's attorney said Joseph Richardson has tried several times to make changes to the separation agreement.

Pleban noted a section in law that says a court can order changes to an agreement upon finding it is "unconscionable." But the Supreme Court said that provision applies only before the agreement becomes final, not indefinitely.

The judges had questioned whether making exceptions to what are supposed to be fixed agreements could open up a flood of litigation as people make up claims to get out of paying support.

The court also rejected the suggestion exceptions be allowed to discourage murder, saying laws already do that.

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