Divorce is an emotionally taxing time for both spouses, but navigating spousal maintenance adds an additional layer. Every state has a set of unique laws regarding spousal maintenance and property division. However, couples residing in Minnesota are encouraged to become familiar with the state’s processes if and when a divorce is pursued.
So, What Is Spousal Maintenance?
Spousal maintenance guidelines vary from state to state, but in Minnesota, in particular, it is commonly called spousal support or spousal maintenance. The judge assigned to a marriage dissolution case determines the need for spousal maintenance awards, meaning it’s decided on a case by case basis. Any marriage dissolution case that may require spousal maintenance receives extensive judicial discretion and is often time-consuming as both parties are seeking an outcome that benefits each of them. With this, regardless of your unique situation, it’s recommended to have expert guidance and a strong case, so spousal maintenance awards are fair and realistic.
The Different Types of Spousal Maintenance
Two different spousal maintenance orders can be awarded by a judge in Minnesota today, temporary and permanent. Each marriage dissolution case is unique, meaning there are various factors the assigned judge will review before deciding the type of spousal maintenance that will be awarded.
This form of spousal maintenance is granted when one spouse is unable to self-support immediately following the divorce. Temporary spousal maintenance requires one spouse to pay another for an allotted amount of time following a divorce or until a specific event occurs. A judge will likely grant temporary spousal maintenance to help one spouse stay financially stable until a self-supporting lifestyle is an option. Temporary spousal maintenance is commonly awarded in short-term marriages and can appear in a variety of circumstances. For example, if one spouse leaves work to care for children, they will need time to apply for jobs and reenter their profession.
Aside from temporary spousal maintenance, a judge may also award permanent spousal maintenance. In this case, the spousal maintenance isn’t awarded for a specific length of time, but it doesn’t mean forever. With permanent spousal maintenance, the payments continue until the judge terminates, if either spouse passes away, or if the spouse receiving payments remarries. Permanent spousal maintenance is commonly awarded in long-term marriages and can appear in various circumstances, similar to temporary spousal maintenance. For example, if a couple pursues divorce after forty years of marriage, one spouse may need assistance if they haven’t worked outside the home or are reaching retirement.
What to Expect
In Minnesota, spousal maintenance has become more common in long-term marriages due to children being involved, and family structures developing around one spouse staying home to provide care while the other works outside of the household. In long-term marriages, both spouses play a large but differing role in the family structure. Today’s court systems are aware of this generational difference, meaning spousal maintenance is awarded due to the knowledge that one spouse will require more support to eventually sustain employment and income of their own.
In today’s society, many newlyweds plan to be financially stable both independently and as a couple, which makes a difference if divorce is sought after later in the relationship. With lifestyles and values continuing to evolve and transform, the need for spousal maintenance is less likely; however, both temporary and permanent awards remain available.
The Calculation of Spousal Maintenance
Each case regarding spousal maintenance is different, meaning there are no guidelines set in stone regarding how spousal maintenance is calculated. Judges consider numerous factors in the decision-making process, and in Minnesota courts, equitable distribution is required. Equitable distribution refers to the need for a decision based on the fairness of both parties. Along with the length of the marriage, many other factors are reviewed by judges before awarding spousal maintenance.
- Income: While this may seem like a prominent factor in the spousal maintenance equation, it’s very significant. A judge will review each spouse’s income to determine the structure and if one spouse will be placed at a financial disadvantage after the divorce.
- Financial Resources: Both marital and non-marital property can affect the outcome of spousal maintenance. The size of the marital estate will be reviewed, and, in some instances, property may be awarded rather than monetary amounts.
- Age: An unemployed spouse’s ability to find a job after a divorce may not be an option depending on their age. Each spouse’s age will be assessed to determine whether the ability to work, train, or learn job skills is present.
- Education and Work Experience: Along with education and work experience, job history, and other skills of each party will be reviewed. If the judge feels a spouse cannot reach financial stability independently, spousal maintenance may be awarded.
- Standard of Living: All individuals have preferences regarding the standard of life upheld, such as extracurricular activities like shopping. The judge will review each spouse’s standard of living both during and before marriage to determine whether a spousal maintenance award is necessary.
- Loss of Earnings and Retirement Benefits: These details, along with other financial opportunities, are often ignored during an initial evaluation. The judge assigned to your divorce case will consider all facts to ensure the best decision is made.
Spousal maintenance cases can be time-consuming, which is just the tip of the iceberg as to components of the case. The judge assigned to a divorce case will also review each spouse’s emotional and physical health as well as any known contributions to marital property.
Can a Party Make Changes to Spousal Maintenance?
Life changes can happen unexpectedly, and there are instances where the court system can make errors of its own. In Minnesota, either party is allowed to ask for a spousal maintenance modification for various reasons.
- Increase or decrease in either party’s income
- Health changes
- Changes in the cost of living
- Unexpected child medical expenses
- Clerical errors
- Hidden assets
- Fulfillment of previous order
Each divorce case varies in detail and individual needs. Determining spousal maintenance awards can be a lengthy process, but having an experienced family law attorney will help your case go smoothly and ensure each spouse’s needs are met fairly. Whether you’re a resident of Minnesota or in another United States location, it’s encouraged to become familiar with your state’s spousal maintenance guidelines so you can be prepared.