One of the many issues that is typically decided during the divorce process in Minnesota is whether either spouse will be ordered to pay spousal maintenance to the other, how much these monthly payments will be, and the duration of the payments. These requirements are part of the official court order, which means the failure of the obligor (paying spouse) to make the payments is legally actionable.
If you are owed spousal maintenance arrears in Minnesota or you are unable to afford the spousal maintenance payments you’ve been ordered, an experienced divorce attorney from CJB Law can help you understand your legal options.
Why Is Spousal Support Awarded in Minnesota?
Historically, spousal support – often referred to as alimony – was a monthly payment made by a man to his former wife in order to maintain the standard of life that she had grown accustomed to during the marriage. The award was often permanent, only ending with death or remarriage. While some permanent spousal support orders are still in existence in Minnesota, the vast majority of spousal maintenance is temporary in nature, only considered by the court if requested by one of the parties, and meant for limited reasons, such as:
- The requesting party lacks sufficient resources to provide for their needs; or
- The requesting party is caring for a child and is unable to work outside the home.
Alimony is separate from child support, which involves payments specifically designated to be spent on the child’s needs, including their need for housing and utilities.
What Happens If One Has Spousal Maintenance Arrears in Minnesota?
Because spousal maintenance is generally part of the court order, there are a number of potential consequences that can be experienced by those who fail to make their maintenance payments. These potential consequences include:
- Being found in contempt of the court order, which can result in the incurrence of fines and attorney fees, and can even result in jail time in some cases.
- Having a judgment against them, which can result in collection actions including wage garnishment, levying bank accounts, or the seizure of personal property, such as vehicles.
- Having their retirement benefits taken from their 401(k) to satisfy the arrears as a result of a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO).
Alimony in Minnesota is more often a temporary order rather than a permanent one. Even so, arrears can be collected for several years after the end of the predetermined duration of the support, as those who are owed money have six years to pursue collection of that money in Minnesota.
In addition to being subject to collection efforts and having a court judgment against them, those who fail to make ordered spousal maintenance or child support payments in Minnesota can also have their driver’s license suspended until the arrears are paid.
If your circumstances have significantly changed since the order went into effect, you can request a hearing before the court to demonstrate the change and its impacts to your ability to pay, and — in some cases — can have the support modified.
What Are Some Circumstances That Can Give Rise to a Modification?
Courts in Minnesota will consider modifying spousal maintenance payments if:
- There has been a significant change in financial circumstances for either party.
- There has been a substantial change in needs for the requesting party or a child that is in their custody.
- New evidence exists to show that the need for support was not as presented when it was ordered.
- The obligee is cohabitating with a romantic partner. Spousal maintenance orders automatically terminate if the obligee remarries. However, if it can be proven that they are cohabitating, the support maintenance payments can either be reduced or ended.
What If One Is Owed Spousal Maintenance Arrears in Minnesota?
If you are owed spousal maintenance in Minnesota and your ex has failed to stay current with their payments, once the amount of arrears are three times the amount of the monthly support obligation, you can ask the court to enforce the order through a civil contempt of court action. This action involves:
- The obligee (the one who is owed the payments) files an Affidavit of Default and a Notice of Entry and Docketing of Maintenance Judgment with the court and also serves these documents to the obligor.
- Once the obligor is served with these documents, they have 20 days to pay the arrears in full as set forth in the affidavit, or request a hearing.
- If the obligor fails to pay the arrears within the timeframe given or to request a hearing, the obligee can then seek a contempt of court order judgment from the court.
- Once the judgment has been received, the obligee can then seek collection of the arrears through methods such as wage garnishment or bank levies. They also can begin earning a 4 percent interest on the judgment until it is paid in full.
In addition to the contempt of court order, the obligee can also attempt to collect spousal maintenance arrears through a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). This order will allow the obligee to access funds from the obligors 401(k) account if available.
A divorce lawyer can assist you with both of these actions and can provide guidance as to the best method of recovering spousal maintenance arrears in your case.
An Experienced Family Law Attorney Can Help With Spousal Maintenance Matters
Spousal maintenance is not haphazardly awarded; but is ordered because the court has determined that there is a legitimate need for it. Problems with owing or being owed spousal maintenance arrears are stressful for everyone concerned. An experienced family law attorney can help sort these issues out by providing a deep level of understanding of the process of enforcing or modifying spousal maintenance orders, as well as guidance and services aimed at resolving the issue as quickly as possible.
We Can Help
Divorce issues are often emotionally charged, even if time has passed. One party failing to make ordered spousal support payments to the other is a common reason for strife. The experienced family law attorneys at CJB Law have spent more than a century assisting individuals in Minnesota with these issues. Our divorce attorneys have been recognized throughout the region for providing high-quality and compassionate services, developing a one-of-a-kind, results-driven strategy for every client we serve. Contact us today to begin working on a solution to your Minnesota spousal maintenance arrears issue.