Spousal maintenance is money a court orders one spouse to periodically pay the other spouse out of future earnings. It’s one of the most litigated aspects of a divorce action because it’s a highly emotional and unpredictable issue. The issue brings out emotions because the obligor spouse often dislikes the idea of being required to continue to support a former spouse after they are no longer married, and the spouse receiving the support is often afraid of the unknown future and potential loss of security.
It’s often difficult to predict whether and how much spousal maintenance will be awarded in a particular case because the court has a great deal of flexibility in making its determination. The actions or “fault” of the spouse has no bearing on whether spousal maintenance is awarded.
Whether you’re the spouse defending against a claim to pay spousal maintenance or the spouse seeking it, KMH will advise you about the factors the court considers when determining whether to award spousal maintenance, explain how they may apply in your case and vigorously pursue your rights under Minnesota law.
To be entitled to spousal maintenance, a party must first show “reasonable need” of the award. First, the spouse must show “reasonable need” of the award. To do so, they must demonstrate that they lack sufficient property, (including marital property they were awarded), or that they are unable to support themselves, considering the standard of living established during the marriage, unless the spouse has custody of a child making it inappropriate for them to be employed outside the home. For example, if day care costs a spouse would have to pay to be able to work outside the home are greater than the amount the spouse could earn at a job, , the court wouldn’texpect the spouse to work outside the home.
Once a party shows they have reasonable need of spousal maintenance, the court will next decide how much should be awarded and how long it should be paid. To do so, it will consider the following factors:
- The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property awarded, the party’s ability to meet needs independently, including any money included in a child support payment that is for the party as custodian of the child;
- The time necessary to obtain sufficient education or training to enable the party to find appropriate employment, and the probability, given the party’s age and skills, that the party can become partially or fully self-supporting;
- The standard of living established during the marriage;
- The duration of the marriage and, in the case of someone who has stayed home to care for the children and/or the home, how long it’s been since they last worked and whether their skills have become outdated and their earning capacity has become permanently diminished;
- The loss of earnings, seniority, retirement benefits and other employment opportunities forgone by the spouse seeing spousal maintenance;
- The age and mental and physical condition of the spouse seeking maintenance;
- The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet needs while meeting needs of other spouse;
- The contribution of the each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation of appreciation in the value of the marital property and the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker or in furtherance of the other spouse’s employment or business.
Generally, the amount awarded is the shortfall between the recipient’s expected income and expected needs. Calculating the recipient’s expected income is straightforward when they’ve been fully employed during the marriage. If they haven’t been fully employed, determining expected income can be more complicated. Generally, if a recipient is physically and mentally able to work, the court will expect them to work full time. If the recipient hasn’t worked for a long time, , the court may order a vocational evaluation to determine future expected income. It the recipient is reentering the workforce, more spousal maintenance may be awarded in the short term, then be reduced as the recipient becomes trained and earning capacity grows.
After the court determines how much spousal maintenance to award, it must decide how long it should be paid. Spousal maintenance is generally described as either “temporary” or “permanent”. However, even when it’s labeled “permanent,” it isn’t really guaranteed under all circumstances.. For example, it will end when the paying spouse dies or if the recipient remarries. It can sometimes also be modified, such as when there’s been a substantial change in circumstances that makes the award unreasonable or unfair. Thus, it’s really more properly called “indefinite” rather than permanent.