Spousal maintenance—commonly known as alimony—is often awarded when Minnesota couples divorce. The goal of alimony is to preserve, as much as possible, the lower-earning’s spouse’s current standard of living.
If a divorcing couple can come to an agreement about alimony—how much, and for how long—it’s much better than arguing about it in court. Going to court is, of course, very expensive and acrimonious, and it also creates a lot of uncertainty.
It’s very hard to predict how much alimony a judge will order, because judges have a lot of leeway in making these decisions. Unlike child support, there is no standard formula for calculating spousal support in Minnesota. In general, however, the longer you’ve been married, and the greater the disparity in earning capacity between the spouses, the more likely it is that a substantial maintenance award will be made.
Factors a Judge Must Consider
If you and your spouse can’t agree on spousal maintenance, you’ll need to provide evidence to the court on the factors set out in Minnesota law. (Minn. Stat. Ann. sec. 518.552.)
State law provides that a court can award spousal maintenance if the spouse seeking it doesn’t have enough assets to provide for reasonable needs, especially if the spouse needs training or education. Maintenance is also justified if the spouse can’t support himself or herself by working or cares for a child in circumstances that make it appropriate for him or her not to work outside the home.
Maintenance can be temporary or permanent. The judge is not allowed to take into account marital misconduct, but is directed to consider “all relevant factors,” including:
- The financial resources of the spouse seeking maintenance, including marital property and child support.
- How long it will take the spouse to get education or training necessary to become self-supporting, and the likelihood, given the spouse’s age and skills, that the spouse will become self-supporting.
- The standard of living the couple established during the marriage.
- How long the marriage lasted.
- How long a spouse who is a homemaker has been out of the work world, and the extent to which that absence has diminished earning capacity.
- Any loss of earnings, seniority, retirement benefits, and other employment opportunities forgone by the spouse seeking maintenance.
- The age and physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance.
- The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance.
- Each spouse’s contribution to the acquisition or increase in value of marital property, and the contribution of a spouse who was a homemaker or helped the other’s employment or business.
Modifying Spousal Maintenance
Even “permanent” spousal maintenance awards may be terminated or suspended, or the amount may be changed, if a former spouse’s situation changes significantly. In practice, this usually means a substantial increase or decrease in the payor or recipient's income, although a substantial change in expenses can also justify a modification. (Minn. Stat. Ann. sec. 518A.39.)
The only way to legally prevent modification of a spousal maintenance order is for both spouses to agree, in writing, to give up (waive) the right to go back to court and seek changes later. They must also specifically state that the district court has no further authority (jurisdiction) over the matter. The court must find that the agreement is fair and that both spouses have disclosed all their assets and liabilities, and the agreement must be incorporated into the dissolution judgment and decree. Such an agreement is called a Karon waiver, after a court case that discussed it. (Karon v. Karon, 435 N.W.2d 501 (Minn. 1989.)
Updated by: Mary Randolph, J.D.