Divorced woman holding envelope with alimony

Alimony, or spousal maintenance as it is called in Minnesota, is an issue of concern in many divorces. Some people worry that they won’t be able to make it financially after divorce without spousal maintenance; others worry that having to pay maintenance will sink their financial ship.

As a result, we get many questions about spousal maintenance: How is spousal maintenance calculated in Minnesota? How long do spousal maintenance payments last? Can spousal maintenance be modified? Does spousal maintenance end if the recipient remarries? Here are six things you should know about alimony in Minnesota.

Minnesota Spousal Maintenance is Based on Need.

In Minnesota, spousal maintenance is awarded for one of two reasons. The first is that the person requesting it does not have sufficient property to provide for their reasonable needs considering the standard of living established during the marriage. The other reason for spousal maintenance to be awarded is that the person requesting it is responsible for the care of a child whose condition makes it unsuitable for the parent to work outside of the home.

Some states factor a spouse’s wrongdoing into an award of alimony, but Minnesota is not one of those states. In other words, even if your spouse cheated on you or wasted marital assets, it’s not going to move the needle on an award of spousal maintenance in your case.

There is No Formula for Calculating Minnesota Spousal Maintenance.

Unlike child support, which is calculated according to guidelines based on parents’ incomes and other factors, there is no formula for calculating spousal maintenance. Instead, the amount and duration of spousal maintenance is based on these factors:

  • The financial resources of the person seeking maintenance;
  • How long it would take the person seeking maintenance to become self-supporting under the circumstances;
  • The standard of living established during the marriage;
  • The length of the marriage, and if the spouse seeking maintenance has been out of the workforce, the impact of that on earning ability;
  • Any earnings, seniority, retirement benefits and other employment opportunities the spouse seeking maintenance has forgone;
  • The age, physical, and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance;
  • The ability of the spouse being asked to pay maintenance to meet their own needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance; and
  • Each spouse’s contribution to the marital property, including the contribution of a homemaker spouse in support of the other spouse’s employment or business.

As a general rule, the longer the marriage and the greater the difference between the divorcing spouses’ incomes, the more likely that spousal maintenance will be awarded.

There are Two Kinds of Spousal Maintenance in Minnesota.

In Minnesota, there are two types of spousal maintenance authorized by statute: temporary and permanent. Temporary maintenance is often awarded during the divorce to ensure that the recipient, also called the obligee, has enough to live on during the divorce process.

Temporary spousal maintenance may also be awarded for a fixed period of time in the divorce decree, to allow the obligee time to get education or training, find work and become self-supporting. While there is a fixed term for temporary spousal maintenance, the obligee can petition the court to extend the term if needed unless the parties have entered into a “Karon” waiver. In short, a Karon waiver is if the parties have agreed on a specific amount for a specific period of time as a part of their entire property settlement, it will bar the court from being able to modify the original terms.

Permanent spousal maintenance would probably better be termed “long term” maintenance, since in practice it often is not permanent. It may be awarded for an unspecified period and then modified or terminated. It is more common in longer-term marriages.

Minnesota law says if it’s not clear whether temporary or permanent spousal maintenance is appropriate, courts should award permanent spousal maintenance and leave the door open for later modification.

Spousal Maintenance is No Longer Deductible to the Person Paying It.

For many years, alimony was taxable as income to the recipient, and deducted from taxable income for the person paying it. With the enactment of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), this is no longer true. The person receiving spousal maintenance no longer has to treat it as income, and the payor no longer gets to deduct spousal maintenance payments from their income for tax purposes.

Remarriage Will Terminate Spousal Maintenance, But Cohabitation Can Too.

In Minnesota, if the person receiving spousal support remarries, spousal support automatically terminates (unless the divorcing spouses specifically agreed otherwise). However, don’t think you can get around this aspect of the law by simply living with a new romantic partner instead of marrying them. Depending on the circumstances, cohabitation can result in spousal maintenance being terminated, too.

You Don’t Have to Leave Spousal Maintenance Up to the Court.

Many Minnesota couples choose to reach their own agreement on spousal maintenance, as with many other aspects of their divorce. In other words, you and your spouse can decide on the amount and duration of spousal maintenance, and the circumstances under which it will terminate. As stated above you can also decide to make spousal maintenance non-modifiable through a Karon waiver.

It’s often best to reach agreement about spousal maintenance, since you and your spouse understand your circumstances better than any judge can. That said, in practice it can be difficult to reach agreement on your own. You might need to seek the support of a family law mediator to help you resolve any differences and reach settlement.

If you are negotiating spousal maintenance, it is important to look ahead and think about contingencies. What do you want to happen if one of you becomes ill or injured and can no longer work? Are there circumstances other than marriage, cohabitation, or the death of one of the parties when spousal maintenance should terminate? Be sure you understand every detail of your spousal maintenance agreement to avoid unintended consequences.

If you have questions about spousal maintenance in Minnesota that weren’t addressed by this blog post, we invite you to contact Mundahl Law to schedule a consultation.