How to Determine how much Spousal Maintenance is Appropriate
Many Minnesota families today rely on both spouses working outside the home to pay the bills. But income discrepancy can make it hard for divorced parties to maintain their marital lifestyle in separate homes. That is why Minnesota family law allows parties to ask for spousal maintenance in a divorce.
Spousal maintenance, once known as alimony, was created to ensure some level of parity for spouses who have made some career sacrifices or will otherwise be at a financial disadvantage after a divorce. The court looks at the need and the ability to pay in light of the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.
Unlike child support, which is based on a specific calculation, there is no formula for setting spousal maintenance. Judges have broad discretion in setting spousal maintenance both in deciding the amount and the duration of the support. That is why the knowledge and experience of an attorney is especially important.
What Factors Go into Determining Spousal Maintenance
Once the judge is satisfied that you meet the legal standard for spousal maintenance, the court will decide the amount and duration based upon the following considerations:
- the requesting spouse’s financial resources, including marital property, and the spouse’s ability to meet needs independently
- the time necessary for the supported spouse to acquire sufficient education or training to find employment, and the probability of finding a job, given the spouse’s age, skills, and education
- the marital standard of living
- the length of the marriage, and if one spouse stayed home to care for children or the home, the length of time the supported spouse was absent from employment, and whether education, skills, or the absence from the market permanently diminished earning capacity
- the supported spouse’s loss of earnings, seniority, retirement benefits, or other employment benefits during the marriage
- the requesting spouse’s age and physical and emotional condition
- the paying spouse’s ability to remain financially independent while paying spousal maintenance, and
- each spouse’s contribution to the marriage, including acquiring property, contributions as a homemaker, or furtherance of the other spouse’s employment or business.
Types of Spousal Maintenance Awards
In Minnesota, courts can order temporary or permanent spousal maintenance. However, it can turn out that a temporary award ends up being permanent just as a permanent award ends up being temporary.
Temporary spousal maintenance is common when a spouse needs some time to pursue or complete their education or training to re-enter the workforce. In such cases, there is an expectation that the recipient is moving ahead toward financial independence. Spousal maintenance can also serve as a bridge until certain marital assets can be liquidated or otherwise become available for use. Temporary maintenance ends on a date specified, but the supported spouse can ask the court for an extension, in certain cases.
There is also another kind of temporary spousal maintenance. This spousal maintenance can be awarded during the divorce proceeding to help the tide the recipient over until maintenance is decided in the final divorce.
Permanent maintenance is typically awarded in divorces where it is unclear whether the lower-earning spouse will ever become self-supporting. Most commonly this happens because the recipient has stayed home with children or otherwise made career sacrifices for such a long time that they cannot be expected to recover financially. Permanent spousal maintenance can be awarded in cases of physical and mental disability. A permanent support order can be reviewed and amended if and when circumstances change, for example, upon retirement of the paying spouse, in some cases. While termed “permanent”, permanent spousal maintenance rarely is in fact, never ending.
Modifying Spousal Maintenance
The court may modify spousal maintenance if the requesting spouse demonstrates a significant change of circumstances. For example, if the supporting spouse is living with a new partner and receiving support for living expenses from him or her, the court may reduce, suspend, or terminate support. Spousal maintenance terminates upon the recipient remarrying unless the parties negotiate other terms.
Spousal maintenance is one of the most nuanced and complex issues in family law.