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Spousal Maintenance in Minnesota

By Eric C. Nelson, Esq.

Initial Spousal Maintenance Awards

Spousal maintenance awards can be difficult to predict, because there are no Guidelines, as with child support, and both the amount and duration of an award of spousal maintenance are within the broad discretion of the trial court.

Essentially, an award of spousal maintenance requires three showings:
  • Need of a party for spousal maintenance
  • Ability of a party to pay spousal maintenance
  • Sufficient length of marriage to establish "entitlement" 1
Spousal maintenance decisions are based on the following main factors: 2
  • Length of the marriage
  • Standard of Living during the marriage
  • Income of both parties
  • Living expenses of both parties
  • Age of both parties
  • Property apportioned to each spouse in the divorce
  • Education and employability of the spouse seeking maintenance
  • Any disability status affecting employability
Legally the Court is also required to consider the contributions of each party to the marital estate.3 In practice, however, contributions of each spouse are almost always treated as equal, even if one party did nothing but park himself on the couch and watch TV for 30 years while the working spouse yelled at him every day to quit being a bum and get a job. The prevailing attitude seems to be that since marriage is a partnership, and you didn't divorce the lazy bum sooner, then you're stuck with those partnership terms.

From experience, I have observed the following general parameters for spousal maintenance, with the caveat that there are exceptions to all of them:
  • a marriage of less than 5 years usually means no spousal maintenance
  • if you're in your mid-40s or younger, the Court will expect you to obtain employment at some point, whether after reeducation or immediately
  • for traditional marriages of 25 or more years, an award of "permanent" spousal maintenance is likely (assuming a sufficient need and disparity of incomes)
Modification of Spousal Maintenance

Even so-called "permanent" spousal maintenance awards may be terminated, suspended, or extended in length, or reduced or increased in amount, upon proof of a substantial change of circumstances to justify the modification. 4 In practice, this usually means a substantial increase or decrease in the payor or recipient's income, although a substantial change in expenses can also justify a modification.5

The only way to legally prevent future modification of spousal maintenance is for both parties to stipulate to a so-called Karon waiver at the time the award is made.6

1 See Minnesota Statute section 518.552
3 Id.
4 Minnesota Statute section 518.64, Subdivision 2
5 Id.
6 Karon v. Karon, 435 N.W.2d 501 (Minn. 1989).

Eric C. Nelson has devoted his practice exclusively to family law, with particular focus on divorce and child custody matters, including, but not limited to post-decree modification of custody. Eric has successfully handled hundreds of cases of divorces (both contested and uncontested), child custody, child support, spousal maintenance, parenting time, out-of-state moves, domestic abuse, harassment, and other miscellaneous family law matters, both in and out of court. Mr. Nelson has been praised by clients for a respectful attitude, promptness and honesty.

He can be contacted by phone at (612)321-9402 or
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