Q: I recently heard of something called a Karon waiver with regard to spousal maintenance. What is a Karon Waiver?
A: Minnesota law allows parties to seek spousal maintenance (formerly called “alimony”) from one another if their circumstances meet the statutory criteria. In addition, the law establishes a general statutory right to seek modification of maintenance. A Karon waiver is a waiver of that right to seek modification of spousal maintenance.
The term “Karon waiver” comes from the case, Karon v. Karon, 417 N.W.2d 717 (Minn. Ct. App. 1988) and its sequel, 435 N.W.2d 501 (Minn. 1989) (which has now been superseded in part by statute). That case involved a divorce in which the parties agreed that husband would pay spousal maintenance to the wife. They also agreed that except for the previously mentioned spousal maintenance award, the parties waived and agreed to be forever barred from receiving any other maintenance from one another. Finally, they agreed that the court would be prevented from having any future power to award spousal maintenance to either of the parties.
A few years later, the wife brought a motion asking for an increase in spousal maintenance. The husband argued that the court had no authority to decide the issue of maintenance modification because of the terms of the divorce agreement. The district court disagreed, finding that it did have authority (jurisdiction) to modify maintenance. The husband appealed the exercise of the court’s jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the husband, finding that the court properly exercised jurisdiction over the issue of spousal maintenance. The husband then appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided that both the district court and the Court of Appeals had gotten it wrong—the parties’ express agreement that the court would have no power to decide the issue of maintenance in the future prevented the re-opening of the decree for a modification of maintenance.
Minn. Stat. § 518.552 subd. 5 now governs the provisions required in what legal professionals still call Karon waivers. A Karon waiver must contain both a specific waiver of the right to seek modification and a specific statement divesting the court from further jurisdiction over the matter. In addition, the court has to find that the waiver is fair and equitable, supported by consideration, and that both parties have fully disclosed their complete financial situation. Finally, the parties’ stipulation has to be made a part of the the divorce agreement. If all these requirements are met, then the court may not modify maintenance under any circumstance.
In summary, unless there is Karon waiver in a stipulated divorce agreement in which one party pays spousal maintenance to the other, one or both parties have the right to seek a modification of the spousal maintenance award sometime in the future.
Letty M-S Van Ert is an associate attorney at Tuft & Lach, PLLC located in Maplewood, MN. In addition to representing clients in the areas of estate planning, probate, divorce, child custody, child support, and other family law matters, she is also a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral (mediator) serving clients in Minnetonka, St. Louis Park, Plymouth, Edina, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and surrounding areas.