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If you are receiving spousal maintenance (alimony), and your divorce decree states that payments will terminate on remarriage, what do you do when you meet and fall in love with someone? If you're like many people, the answer is to move in together, but not to marry, even if you'd otherwise prefer to be wed.

If you are paying spousal maintenance, and your ex-spouse is living with a significant other, sharing expenses, receiving financial support from that person, how do you feel about writing that check every month? Worse still, what if your ex is using maintenance you're paying in order to support a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend? Chances are, you're writing out your check for maintenance with gritted teeth, imagining your ex laughing all the way to the bank to cash it.

Scenarios such as this are what's behind HF 1333, also known as the Cohabitation Alimony Reform Bill, which passed with overwhelming support in both the Minnesota legislative house and senate. Governor Mark Dayton signed this bill into law on May 19, and it takes effect on August 1, 2016. What might the new law mean for you?

What the Cohabitation Alimony Reform Bill Does

HF 1333 lets payers of spousal maintenance (obligors) make a motion in court to modify future spousal maintenance payments upon evidence that the party receiving maintenance (the obligee) is cohabitating with another adult. Modification could mean reducing the amount of maintenance, suspending it, reserving it, or terminating it altogether.

A court would look at the following factors in deciding whether cohabitation should result in a modification of maintenance:

  • whether the obligee would marry the person he or she is cohabiting with if not for the maintenance award;
  • the economic benefit the obligee gets from the cohabitation;
  • how long the cohabitation has been going on, and how long it's likely to continue; and
  • the economic impact on the obligee if maintenance is modified and the
    cohabitation ends.

Of course, after divorce, many people move in with a family member, such as a sibling or parent. The new law would not affect maintenance payments in one of these scenarios; it explicitly excludes cohabitation with a person that the obligee would not be allowed to marry under Minnesota law. Technically, cohabitating with an unrelated friend, especially one of the opposite sex, could possibly result in modification of spousal maintenance. However, the law seems aimed squarely at cohabitation in the context of a romantic relationship.

Under the new law, a motion to modify a maintenance award due to the obligee's cohabitation may not be brought within a year of the date of the order awarding spousal maintenance. An exception to this rule can be made if the court finds that failing to allow the motion would create extreme hardship for one of the parties. Parties may also choose to write into their decree of dissolution or separation a clause explicitly allowing a motion to modify alimony within the first year.

Protecting Your Interests Regarding Alimony in Light of HF 1333

The new law provides food for thought for both obligors and obligees in alimony cases. If you expect to be receiving spousal maintenance, steer clear of actions that could subject you to a motion to modify or terminate your payments—especially moving in with a boyfriend or girlfriend. If you expect to be paying maintenance, consider insisting on a clause in your decree that lifts the one year waiting period for a motion to modify based on cohabitation (especially if you suspect your ex is about to move in with someone).

Want to know more about spousal maintenance in Minnesota? Check out these articles: