Minnesota's Family Law Blog

Massive 2024 Changes to Spousal Support/Alimony in Minnesota: What You Need to Know

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Changes are coming…

Minnesota’s family law landscape as it relates to spousal maintenance (often called spousal support or alimony) is changing in a pretty big way this summer. Yesterday, Governor Walz signed into law H.F. 3204, which will go into effect on August 1, 2024.  It’s big, I mean HUGE, with very significant changes that will really impact how divorces that have spousal support as an issue in Minnesota. 

Today, I’m looking at just the changes to spousal support, or alimony, and how this really is a massive change in the way we’ve done alimony cases in the state of Minnesota.  

Before I cover the changes, you should know that before this new law, Minnesota was the Wild West for spousal support.  Amount, duration even the type of alimony was really inconsistent across Minnesota.  I often saw some spouses of very modest means paying alimony in the Twin Cities area, while high-wage earners outstate may not have paid anything.  There was no calculator and it really depended on the judge and the lawyers.

It’s clear the legislature wanted to try and fix that, and that is a good thing!  It’s too early to tell if this is the fix needed, but it’s a start.  Let’s dig in!

The changes that matter are in Minn. Statute 518.552 and has four significant changes (five if you count the name change!)

  1. Name change
  2. Changing how the duration is calculated
  3. Changing how the amount is determined
  4. Changing how Retirement is viewed
  5. Changing how modification is viewed

New Names For Spousal Maintenance

The old language was pretty clear, you had temporary alimony or permanent alimony. I suspect they are changing the names so that it’s a little easier to understand what the two types are since I often would be asked “what exactly does permanent mean?”

The new law now calls them transitional and indefinite maintenance. There are still only two types of maintenance, but they are now called this.  One point here is that temporary maintenance was sometimes called rehabilitative.  It does make it a little clearer about the new name of temporary spousal support.

Under this new language, any temporary maintenance awarded before August 1, 2024, will be referred to as transitional, while permanent maintenance awarded before that date is now referred to as indefinite. 

And just to make it a little more fun, the legislature did keep the phrase “temporary maintenance,” but this is only to be used until a final order is issued, so it is used during the case after a temporary motion or order is issued, but the statue is clear that temporary is not to be used in a final order.

Changes in The Law For Duration of Spousal Support

One of the most significant changes revolves around the duration or length of maintenance, which now heavily depends on the length of the marriage.  The old law, there was very little guidance on how long maintenance was to be awarded.  There was no calculator or chart.

The rule of thumb was basically that if it was a long-term marriage (often considered over 7 years), then permanent maintenance was to be the presumption, meaning the Court would probably consider permanent maintenance in, say, a 10-year marriage.  Now, if you asked 10 lawyers what was a long-term marriage they would probably disagree a bit, but my experience was around the 7 year mark was what we considered long-term.

This matters because if the presumption of permanent marriage was used, then we would negotiate a little differently; if you were the payor of spousal support, you might consider a Karon Waiver or pay a bit more per month to have an indefinite end date of the alimony.  

The interesting thing from a divorce lawyer perspective though, is there was no hard and fast rule for it; it really was “gut feeling” by the lawyers on how the Judge would react on this topic.  I’ve written a few articles on some perceived gender and geographical bias on this topic.

But now the Minnesota legislature has decided there should be a rebuttable presumption (which just means it’s the default the Court will do absent unique circumstances) based entirely on years of marriage.  They were so nice as to put together a little chart for us! 

  1. Marriages of less than five years – A rebuttable presumption against any maintenance award.
  2. Marriages of five to 20 years – A rebuttable presumption of transitional maintenance for up to half the length of the marriage.
  3. Marriages of 20 years or more – A rebuttable presumption of indefinite maintenance.

Again, I think this is too early to tell if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but at least it helps both the divorce lawyers give advice and the people getting divorced a bit more consistency when it comes to the length of a spousal support.

Changes In How The Amount Is Calculated 

The revised law emphasizes several crucial factors when determining the amount of spousal support. The changes aim to better reflect modern marriage dynamics, taking into account aspects like standard of living, forgone employment opportunities, health, and retirement planning.

1. Standard of Living and Debt

One of the critical changes is how the standard of living during the marriage is considered, particularly in relation to debt. Courts will now look at:

The standard of living established during the marriage and the extent to which the standard of living was funded by debt.

This is new language since the standard of living has been looked at, it was never clear if the standard was based on credit cards and debit or straight cash.  Many families (unfortunately) lease brand-new cars, have too big houses, and take exotic vacations funded entirely through credit cards and loans.  Prior to this change, it could (and was!) argued that it didn’t matter HOW the standard of living was created, just WHAT it was.  Now how it was created matters.

This approach ensures that the courts not only consider the lifestyle enjoyed but also whether it was sustainable or maintained through borrowing. This focus encourages a more realistic assessment of each spouse’s financial situation post-divorce and is a well-thought-out change.

2. Duration of Marriage and Forgone Opportunities

The new law also highlights the impact of marriage on career and employment opportunities:

The duration of the marriage the earnings, seniority, benefits, and other employment opportunities forgone by the spouse seeking maintenance.

This factor acknowledges the sacrifices one spouse may have made in supporting the other or raising children. Also, it got rid of the outdated phrase “Homemaker” and instead references the other spouse and children.

This really tries to adjust or tweak the arguments that are made in divorce court that center on one spouse giving up a career to stay at home or move with the primary wage earner.  It’s hard to quantify, but this does add some language to try and make that argument for the stay-at-home spouse.

3. Age, Health, and Emotional Condition

Courts will now consider:

The age, physical and, mental, or chemical health of both spouses.

The phrase “emotional health” was removed, and they added mental and chemical health.  This might not seem like a big deal, but it actually is.

Chemical dependency is a big problem and cause of divorces, both from stay-at-home spouses who maybe grab that bottle at noon or maybe the wage earner who needs a little “help” to get through late nights, either way it was always an issue but the law didn’t specifically say it could be considered.

5. Contributions and Retirement

What was always a bit strange to me was the language that the court needed to factor in the “The contribution of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation, or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, as well as the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker or in furtherance of the other party’s employment or business”. It was always a bit tricky I thought to argue about acquisition or preservation!  Well they changed that.  It now reads the court should consider:

The contribution of a spouse or a homemaker or in furtherance of the other party’s employment or business.

Conclusion: Embracing Change and Moving Forward

Minnesota’s new spousal support laws reflect the evolving nature of relationships and societal expectations. By distinguishing between transitional and indefinite maintenance, the law aims to better reflect the realities of modern marriage. The changes, effective from August 1, 2024, will impact both existing and future awards, highlighting the need for informed decision-making and professional guidance.

Divorce is often compared to a storm; sometimes it’s a brief summer shower, and other times it’s a prolonged winter blizzard. The new law aims to provide the appropriate response, whether a light umbrella for a short-term downpour or a sturdy shelter for a longer-term freeze.

For anyone contemplating divorce or currently navigating it, understanding these changes is crucial. While the journey might seem daunting, the right knowledge and support can make all the difference. After all, even the stormiest clouds eventually give way to clear skies, and with these new guidelines, Minnesota’s legal system is better equipped to help divorcing spouses find their way to sunnier days.

In the ever-evolving world of family law, Minnesota has introduced significant changes to how the amount of spousal support, or alimony, is determined. Starting August 1, 2024, new guidelines reshape how courts will consider the amount of spousal support, with a renewed focus on fairness and clarity. This post explores the key changes to the law and what they mean for those contemplating or undergoing divorce.

The next two big changes Modification and Retirement issues in the new spousal support law are for next week! stay tuned.

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