You’ve probably heard of spousal maintenance before, and if not, you’ve certainly heard of alimony. Well, they’re one and the same, but here in Minnesota — there are some slight differences in how spousal maintenance is handled and awarded following a divorce.
Spousal maintenance exists to preserve the lower-earning spouse’s standard of living, and you’ll typically hear about these awards following high profile divorce cases. However, spousal maintenance isn’t just for the rich and famous — as many divorcing couples may find themselves in conflict about whether or not these awards should be given or received.
In a perfect world, divorcing couples would sit down and discuss what is fair regarding spousal maintenance. They would come to an agreement regarding the amount and the length of these awards instead of taking it to court. Unfortunately, that’s not how it typically goes. Divorcing couples that cannot amicably agree to spousal maintenance time frames and amounts — end up in court. Here, it becomes both expensive and uncertain, as it’s left in a judge’s hands.
Compared to other legal struggles involved in a divorce, such as child support settlements, where there’s a clear cut formula — spousal maintenance is up to the court. While there’s no formula, there are factors surrounding a couple that illustrates trends in how the courts will award spousal maintenance.
What Factors Affect a Judge’s Decision?
The judicial discretion that surrounds spousal maintenance means that there are certain factors that have a significant impact on the success or failure of a request.
These awards can be either temporary or permanent.
Now, before diving into the various differences between a temporary and permanent spousal maintenance reward, let’s explore the factors that can affect a judge’s decision.
Every case is unique, and as we mentioned, there is no one size fits all equation or solution that determiners spousal maintenance. In Minnesota, the courts attempt to make a decision based on fairness for both parties involved and do not take marital misconduct into consideration.
Well, at the top of the list of factors is the length of the marriage and the income of each party. However, these aren’t the only stipulations that play a role. Here are some of the most influential factors that will determine whether or not spousal maintenance is rewarded — along with its temporary or permanent status.
Obviously, income disparity between spouses can drastically affect whether or not spousal maintenance is rewarded. Spousal dynamics are in play here, as one partner may work while the other takes care of the home. Therefore, income may be fruitful for one, but only possible due to the sacrifices made by the other.
Assets and marital property can have a significant impact on the type of spousal maintenance and the amount rewarded. So, it’s important to know the size of varying marital estates and how whether or not it’s marital or non-marital property. The status of the assets is crucial and can play a big role when it comes to how the court decides spousal maintenance.
It may come as a surprise, but the age of each spouse can also affect a judge’s decision. The ability to work or acquire the job skills necessary for obtaining income is important.
Standard of Living
While the standard of living may play a bigger role in massive estate divorce cases, it’s still possible that the average spousal maintenance case may be affected by this factor.
Job history, work experience, and education all contribute to skills that make career opportunities and income possible. So, it’s not difficult to see why these factors play their part in how the courts determine spousal maintenance. If one spouse sacrificed schooling to raise children, this might be grounds for spousal maintenance awards. Financial stability arises from a foundation, and a judge will take this into consideration when considering awards.
In addition to what we’ve already covered, loss of earnings, retirement benefits, and other financial opportunities that one spouse may have declined or put on hold can also affect spousal maintenance awards.
All of these factors play a role, and while they’re not the entirety of the decision-making process — they do have a significant impact on the spousal maintenance decision. Even physical and emotional health may be looked into as well.
While it would be a lot cheaper and more efficient for spouses to come to a shared conclusion — these cases are typically highly contested. It’s for this very reason that having an experienced family law professional by your side is so important during this process.
Temporary Vs. Permanent Spousal Maintenance
When a judge examines all of the factors we mentioned above, the decision to award spousal maintenance isn’t the only determination. There’s also the type of spousal maintenance too. In Minnesota, a judge will decide whether or not a temporary or permanent model of spousal maintenance suits a particular divorcing couple.
Temporary Spousal Maintenance
Depending on a wide range of circumstances, a temporary spousal maintenance order may be the right fit. Shorter marriages may be grounds for a temporary spousal maintenance decision. Moreover, if one spouse is on their way to obtaining certain job skills, in school, or attempting to gain employment, temporary spousal maintenance may be given. The limited-time award serves as a sort of rehabilitative period where one spouse can get back on their feet and establish liveable income.
Permanent Spousal Maintenance
A judge may decide that permanent spousal maintenance is appropriate. However, it’s not a very common result. Longer marriages (20 years or more) with a very large gap between incomes are typically a candidate.
It should be noted that permanent spousal maintenance is difficult to obtain — but not impossible with the right legal counsel. Permanent does not mean forever, as the order will end once a spouse dies, remarries, or a court order in the future says otherwise.
Can Spousal Maintenance Orders Change?
Yes, there are several stipulations that may cause spousal maintenance rewards to change. Whether it’s clerical errors in payments, fraud, falsified information, hidden assets, or an over-turned order — spousal maintenance can be affected by certain conditions.
New evidence that affects a case or emerging financial situations such as job loss could also play a role. Health changes or even remarriages could also affect spousal maintenance orders.
Here in Minnesota, spousal maintenance cannot be affected by who is at fault when it comes to divorce, even with adultery. We’re what is commonly known as a “no-fault state.” So, a spouse cannot attempt to seek rewards based on the cause of the divorce.
Whether you’re attempting to obtain spousal maintenance or you’re trying to contest it, you’ll need an experienced family law attorney by your side. It can be an extremely stressful and time-consuming endeavor, but the right advocate and legal counsel can make a real impact.