The nature of alimony awards in Minnesota divorce

Minnesota law gives the judge relatively wide discretion in determining appropriate spousal maintenance.

Alimony - the payment of monetary support from one ex-spouse to the other after divorce or legal separation - can make a big difference to both parties as they move into separate lives. After all, the income and assets that before financed one household will need to pay for two after the marriage ends.

Minnesota law calls alimony maintenance and the terms spousal support and spousal maintenance are also common. For the recipient, the extra money can improve his or her lifestyle and, by virtue of residing together, the lifestyles of children living with the payee. For example, regular maintenance payments may allow that spouse to buy a new car, take vacations, live in a bigger home and so on.

In serious situations, maintenance payments may be needed to cover basics otherwise difficult to afford like insurance, gas, home repairs, clothing and even groceries.

On the flip side, a spouse ordered to pay alimony may need to contract and tighten these kinds of personal expenditures in his or her own household because of the money going out of the budget for support, so a fair and reasonable award is important.

A prospective maintenance payor or payee facing divorce should seek the advice and representation of an experienced divorce attorney as early as possible to understand how the law is likely to apply to the family circumstances and to begin to build strategies and make decisions likely to achieve optimal outcomes and meet personal goals, including an appropriate alimony award that complies with Minnesota law.

With offices in Minneapolis, the divorce lawyers at Berg, Debele, DeSmidt & Rabuse, P.A., represent family law clients throughout the Twin Cities metro.

Some aspects of Minnesota alimony law stand out vis-à-vis other states' laws:

  • The judge has wide discretion to fashion the award without significant limitations imposed by state statute.
  • Marital misconduct may not be considered in determining matters of amount and duration of maintenance in Minnesota. In contrast, some states specifically require that judges weigh spousal misconduct.
  • Minnesota law is relatively supportive of permanent alimony in appropriate cases, while some other states have severely limited its availability.

Practically, many couples negotiate through their lawyers the terms of spousal maintenance as part of an overall marital settlement agreement for submission to the court for incorporation into the final divorce decree.

But if spousal support cannot be agreed upon, the judge must decide the matter as directed by Minnesota law, which allows alimony if the potential recipient does not have the resources to provide for his or her reasonable needs, considering the marital standard of living, in three situations:

  • When the recipient needs time for job training or education to achieve self-support
  • When the recipient is unable to support him or herself through appropriate employment considering all relevant circumstances
  • When it would be inappropriate for the recipient to work because of the condition or circumstances of a child of which the recipient has custody

If maintenance is deemed appropriate, the court is to set a just amount and duration (temporary or permanent), ignoring marital misconduct, considering all relevant factors, including a specific list of eight things that includes the length of the marriage and any diminishment of vocational skills of a homemaker; the age and physical and emotional condition of the recipient and more.

Minnesota law is fairly complex concerning whether the right to later ask for modification of the alimony award has been reserved (preserved) or waived and legal counsel should be consulted on this important issue before any agreement is signed or trial begun.

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