If you're going through a divorce in Minnesota, it's common to worry about how you'll make ends meet during and after the divorce. If you request it, the judge can evaluate whether you or your spouse qualifies for spousal maintenance, which is a court-ordered payment from one spouse to the other during the divorce and for a period after.
Spousal maintenance (sometimes also called spousal support or alimony) is a concept that came about decades ago when traditional marriage consisted of one spouse working full-time while the other was a stay-at-home parent or spouse. The idea was to ensure that, after a divorce, the unemployed (or underemployed) spouse didn't need to seek financial help from state resources. Instead, the court would order the higher-earning spouse to financially support the other until the supported spouse could become economically independent.
Most families today depend on both spouses working outside the home. Still, the law permits either spouse to request financial support from a higher-earning spouse to make ends meet during and after the divorce.
Spousal maintenance laws are gender-neutral, meaning either spouse can request it, regardless of sex. However, Minnesota law only permits the court to award spousal maintenance if the requesting spouse:
Once the judge is satisfied that one spouse meets the grounds for maintenance, the court will evaluate the following factors to decide the amount, duration, and type of support:
Unlike a child support order in Minnesota—which is based on a specific calculation—there is no formula for judges to use to setting alimony. Instead, judges have broad discretion when creating a maintenance award.
In Minnesota, courts can order three types of maintenance: temporary, short-term, or long-term.
Temporary alimony is appropriate in cases where one spouse needs financial assistance during the divorce process. (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 518.62 (2018).) Temporary support ends when the judge finalizes the divorce, regardless of whether the court issues a new, post-divorce award.
Judges in Minnesota most often award short-term support. In most cases, supported spouses are capable of becoming self-supporting, but need time to acquire job skills and education to find employment. Short-term maintenance could include payments to support a spouse who is finishing school, or needs an additional income because the spouse must accept an entry-level job after the divorce. In other cases, short-term alimony is beneficial to spouses waiting to sell marital property, such as a house or business.
Short-term maintenance ends on a date specified by the judge. If the supported spouse needs additional support after maintenance ends, that spouse can ask the court for an extension.
Long-term maintenance is increasingly rare, but still appropriate in divorces where a lower-earning spouse can never become self-supporting. For example, if a spouse is physically disabled and can't work, or is older and has been out of the job market for many years, the court may order permanent support. Long-term support isn't always "forever," and the paying spouse can ask for a review if circumstances change in the future. (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 518.552 (3) (2018).)
You and your spouse can agree, in writing, that neither will ask the court to review the support order later. However, absent an agreement, the court may modify spousal maintenance if the requesting spouse demonstrates a significant change of circumstances since the last order. (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 518A.39 (2) (a-b) (2018).)
In 2016, Minnesota adopted the Cohabitation Alimony Reform Bill, which makes it easier for a paying spouse to modify maintenance if the supported spouse is living with a new partner (cohabitating). The paying spouse must wait at least 12 months after the initial support order to ask for a review based on cohabitation. If the judge decides that the supported spouse is cohabiting and that an alimony modification is appropriate, the court can reduce, suspend, or terminate maintenance.
The court will evaluate the following:
If you don't need a review of the original alimony order, but your ex-spouse isn't paying court-ordered maintenance, you can ask the court to enforce the order.
If you finalized your divorce before January 1, 2019, alimony payments are considered tax-deductible for the paying spouse and taxable income for the supported spouse. However, recent changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act removed the tax-deduction and reporting requirements for spousal maintenance.
If you're concerned about how the tax changes impact your divorce case, you should speak with an experienced tax and divorce attorney in your area.