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Can marital misconduct be ignored in maintenance decisions?

In our article "The nature of alimony awards in Minnesota divorce," we stated that the court cannot consider marital misconduct when determining the amount or duration of a spousal maintenance award. Spousal maintenance is not about punishment. Rather, it is about making it possible for a spouse with an economic disadvantage to provide for his or her basic needs and, to a certain extent, to maintain the marital standard of living.

For example, a man's marriage ends after his spouse has an affair. He has been out of the workforce for a while, though, and it's clear he will not be able to support himself without additional training or education. The court might order his ex to pay spousal maintenance until he has completed a training program. The amount and duration of the support are based on the need for training, not on the ex's misconduct.

A difficult case out of California brought this all to mind. The case raises questions about the purpose of spousal maintenance and the concept of fault.

In 2010, a woman was sentenced to six years in prison for engaging in a sexual relationship with her son's friend. The relationship lasted for years. The son's friend was 13 years old when it began.

At trial, the details of the abuse emerged -- serving alcohol to minors, showing them pornography, threatening and trying to control the victim. All of this went on while her husband was traveling for work and she was caring for her son and two other children. Her husband accused her of abusive behavior toward him, and her daughter developed emotional problems after discovering the relationship with the victim.

Her husband filed for divorce after the sentencing hearing. The settlement left her with nearly $1 million in assets (California is a community property state). Her husband and children moved away.

She served her prison sentence and was released in 2013. One condition of her release is that she register as a sex offender until April 2016.

In September, she sued for spousal maintenance. It didn't take long for the court to decide.

We'll continue this in our next post.

Source: Santa Barbara Independent, "Child Molester Genise Schu Suing Ex-Husband for Spousal Support," Tyler Hayden, Sept. 28, 2015

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