Karon Waivers: Why You Must Talk to an Attorney Before You Waive the Right to Modify Spousal Maintenance

We've already discussed in this space the basics of awarding spousal maintenance in Minnesota, but we've touched only briefly on the concept of modifying spousal maintenance. 

Normally, once an award of spousal maintenance has been granted, Minnesota law (Minnesota Statutes section 518.64, specifically) gives courts the authority to later modify that award under certain circumstances, including substantially increased or decreased income for one of the parties, or one of the parties or their child having substantially increased or decreased need for some reason. This seems fair, right?  However, you can contract with your spouse to limit the ability of the other party to increase or decrease the spousal maintenance obligation even when there is a significant change of circumstances.  

What's a Karon waiver, and why would I sign one?

Paying spousal maintenance is no fun for an obligor (person paying support) and modifying spousal maintenance can be a pain for both parties since it involves further court action. Court action, of course, can be stressful, time-consuming, and expensive. Many people are willing to agree to commit to paying or receiving a certain amount for a set time period,  in exchange for the assurance that they won't later have to pay more or go back to court to modify support.   This agreement to limit the time period and amount of spousal maintenance is known as a Karon waiver, after a case in which such waivers of the right to modify were discussed. 

In Karon, the divorcing couple signed an agreement regarding the amount and duration of what was then called alimony. The ex-wife later petitioned the court for an increase in support, which the court granted. The ex-husband appealed, arguing that the agreement took away the court's ability to modify the alimony award. When the appeals court upheld the modification, he appealed again, to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed with the ex-husband stating: it is possible in Minnesota to waive the legal right to ask the court to modify your spousal maintenance award, including giving up the right to spousal maintenance altogether. That is the law in Minnesota today.

As noted above, many people sign a waiver for the sake of predictability; they know what they'll be paying or receiving, and for how long. Some people are willing to give up the possibility of an award modified in their favor for the certainty of not being dragged back into court to fight about it. In addition, some people agree to waive the right to modify spousal maintenance, in exchange for something else they want in the divorce, like the right to certain property.

Is it ever okay to sign a Karon waiver without talking to a lawyer?

Only if you received a fully-functioning crystal ball in the divorce settlement (Magic 8 Balls don't count.). This will allow you to foresee increases and decreases in your future income and need, as well as to predict winning lottery numbers as needed. 

Otherwise, it's in your best interest to invest in a knowledgeable family law attorney's advice. Your attorney can help you see the big picture and anticipate scenarios and options you might not have considered. Karon waivers are not inherently good or bad, but they do involve giving up a legal right. If you don't make sure that you're getting something valuable in return for that sacrifice, you could regret it deeply later. 

Think about how your life has changed in the last five years, or the last ten. Have there been any major changes? Any unexpected ones? Most people would answer yes.There's no reason to believe the next five, ten, or twenty years will be any more predictable. The only constant in life is change, so be sure you get good advice before giving up the ability to roll with the changes. 

Please feel free to contact us at Mundahl Law with any questions you have regarding spousal maintenance and Karon waivers. We look forward to hearing from you.

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