Is there a presumption of spousal maintenance in Minnesota?
If you are the higher income earner out of you and your spouse and you’re in the process of divorce, you might feel that it’s inevitable, or at least assumed, that you’ll end up paying spousal maintenance (which you might know under the name “alimony”; the two are the same thing). It’s true that in
some states, like Florida, courts will presume that spousal maintenance will be awarded if the marriage was of sufficient duration. However, in Minnesota, there is no presumption either for or against alimony. Instead, courts will weigh up a variety of factors and come to what they feel is a fair result. Spousal maintenance is considered appropriate when either the wife or husband shows sufficient, reasonable need. That is, the husband or wife lacks sufficient property or is unable to provide adequate self-support for his or her reasonable needs.
What a party’s “reasonable needs” are takes into consideration the standard of living the two of you experienced during your marriage. If you were living in a luxury condo in downtown Minneapolis with a live-in nanny and a fleet of luxury SUVs and taking regular weekend trips to Mexico, your ex’s reasonable needs will be different than if you were renting a budget apartment with few luxuries.
Instead of presuming that the higher earner will pay spousal maintenance, courts will consider:
- The other spouse’s ability to meet his or her needs independently;
- The time necessary for the party seeking maintenance to acquire sufficient training or education to enable the party to find appropriate employment; and
- The duration of the marriage and the standard of living established.
Keep in mind that these are just some of the factors a court can consider; the law does not prohibit the court from taking into account other factors that it finds relevant. Further, no single one of these factors on its own will be dispositive of whether spousal maintenance is going to be awarded.
Temporary vs. permanent spousal maintenance
Spousal maintenance awards can be either temporary or permanent. Minnesota used to have a presumption against permanent spousal maintenance, holding that such an award should be made only in exceptional circumstances. Subsequent changes in the law have now eliminated this negative presumption. Currently, courts are supposed to award permanent maintenance when the court is uncertain that the spouse seeking maintenance can ever become self-supporting. However, the court can leave a permanent award open for later modification.
Minnesota cases suggest that permanent awards are only appropriate in cases involving long marriages ending with one spouse being older, dependent, and with little likelihood of achieving self-sufficiency, often due to a long absence from the labor market. This is still a relatively limited category, and previous cases suggest that permanent awards are appropriate only in fairly narrow circumstances.