Whether in Minnesota or elsewhere, the process of ending a marriage can be incredibly stressful. This transition not only signals the end of a valued relationship but a change in lifestyle and sometimes the standard for one or both spouses. Each state handles divorces a little differently, so it’s understandable if you have questions about how state law in Minnesota will affect your divorce.
One of the most common questions about divorce that people seek clarification on is spousal maintenance. This guide from the mediation professionals at Divorce Financially in Edina, MN, will cover everything from what spousal maintenance is to how it’s calculated and how it will affect your taxes.
What is Spousal Maintenance?
It’s common for one spouse to out-earn the other in a marriage, and a divorce can drastically affect the low-earning spouse’s standard of living. The spouse seeking maintenance may need temporary financial support while they get back on their feet, or they might seek permanent spousal maintenance to help maintain their current standard of living.
It’s important to keep in mind that spousal maintenance is different from child support, which gets calculated separately using different factors.
The Difference Between Spousal Maintenance and Alimony in MN
The difference between spousal maintenance and alimony in Minnesota is nothing more than words since both terms describe financial support that a higher-earning spouse pays to a lower-earning spouse after a divorce.
Why does Minnesota choose to call it spousal maintenance rather than alimony?
The word alimony has taken on a negative connotation over the years, and people often see alimony payments as a form of punishment put upon the higher-earning spouse. But spousal maintenance awards in Minnesota are based solely on finances and earning capacity rather than who’s at fault in a divorce.
Alimony is also a somewhat outdated concept because it began when women weren’t able to self-support due to limited job opportunities and job skills. At that time, society automatically assumed that a woman would need support payments after a divorce since she would lack the ability to support herself.
Many circumstances around marriage have changed in recent decades, and the concept of spousal support has changed as well.
Women now have more employment opportunities than ever before, making automatic alimony from a divorcing husband a thing of the past. Additionally, marriage is now open to couples regardless of gender, so gender-based maintenance awards no longer make sense.
Minnesota chooses to use the term spousal maintenance when discussing financial support after a divorce to reflect modern life and marriages.
Factors that Affect Spousal Maintenance in Minnesota
While there is no set formula for calculating maintenance orders, several factors affect spousal maintenance, according to Minnesota state law. These factors will determine things like:
- The size of the maintenance award
- Whether a party receives temporary or permanent spousal maintenance
- What circumstances will affect maintenance payments in the future
Generally speaking, the longer the marriage and the greater the disparity between each spouse’s income, the greater the amount of spousal maintenance awarded. But every marriage, separation, and divorce is different, and when you take your case to court, the judge will examine your specific circumstances before declaring a maintenance order.
The following are some of the things the courts will look for when determining a spousal maintenance award.
- The income of each spouse
- Length of the marriage and the standard of living established during the marriage
- Financial resources of the spouse seeking maintenance (including assets, child support, and marital property)
- Financial resources that the maintenance-seeking spouse has foregone in support of their spouse (such as income, employment opportunities, retirement benefits, status, and seniority)
- Earning ability of the spouse seeking maintenance according to their current age, physical and emotional condition, and time away from the workforce
- How long it will likely take for the spouse seeking maintenance to become self-supporting
- Each spouse’s contribution to the marital property (including homemaking and child care)
- Education and employment history of the spouse seeking maintenance
- The ability of the spouse being asked to pay maintenance to meet their own needs while making spousal maintenance payments
As you can see, courts award spousal maintenance based on the needs of the person seeking support. Judges in Minnesota don’t factor fault into a case but instead, consider things like the standard of living established during the marriage, contribution to marital property, and employment or financial opportunities foregone, such as retirement benefits.
Types of Spousal Maintenance in MN
Minnesota breaks down spousal maintenance into two types:
Let’s take a look at the difference between them and the circumstances in which judges award one over the other.
Temporary Spousal Maintenance
Temporary spousal maintenance is support for a predetermined amount of time.
A court order might award temporary maintenance to a spouse to have something to live on during divorce proceedings. Alternatively, the court may award a person temporary maintenance while the spouse seeks training or education to enable them to earn a living independently.
In any case, temporary maintenance helps a lower-earning spouse meet their needs in the short-term until they can get back on their feet after a divorce.
The law allows an ex-spouse to go back to court to request an extension of spousal maintenance past the originally agreed-upon date as long as the ex-spouses haven’t signed a Karon Waiver. In the case of a Karon Waiver, a judge will not be able to change the previously agreed-upon amount or length of maintenance payments.
Permanent Spousal Maintenance
Permanent spousal maintenance is a determined amount without a predetermined end-date. However, a more accurate term for permanent maintenance would be long-term maintenance since several circumstances, like cohabitation or death, can cause permanent maintenance to end (which we’ll get to below).
The court is more likely to award permanent maintenance in the case of marriages lasting longer than 20 years or when the person seeking maintenance is unable or unlikely to earn a living.
Can Spousal Maintenance Get Changed or Modified?
In some cases, Minnesota law allows ex-spouses to request changes or modifications to spousal support after the initial divorce decree. When might a judge modify spousal maintenance?
- If one ex-spouse dies
- In the case of remarriage or cohabitation on the payee’s part
- When the payer retires
- With Court-ordered modifications
- With newly discovered evidence (unclaimed property, etc.)
The court may approve changes that benefit either ex-spouse, increasing or decreasing payments as circumstances dictate.
As mentioned above, an ex-spouse cannot request modifications of existing spousal maintenance if a Karon Waiver is in place, as the court will be unable to make the requested changes.
How Does Spousal Maintenance Affect Taxes?
Whether you’re paying or receiving spousal maintenance, you’re probably curious what this might mean for you come tax time. Even if you think you understand your tax obligations regarding spousal maintenance, some changes to federal law may affect you.
Modifications to the 2017 Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act include two things that affect people paying or receiving spousal maintenance:
- Spousal maintenance is no longer tax-deductible for the payer
- The payee does not have to claim spousal maintenance as income for tax purposes
These changes pertain to divorces and separations that took place on or before December 31, 2018, and may affect spousal maintenance that has been modified after that date.
If you have any questions about how to factor in your spousal maintenance when filing your taxes, it’s always a good idea to consult a tax professional.
Who Handles Spousal Maintenance in Minnesota?
When most people think of spousal maintenance, they picture attorneys and their clients fighting it out in court. While this is certainly a common scenario, court orders and attorneys aren’t always necessary when deciding on spousal maintenance.
If each spouse agrees, they can settle spousal maintenance cases without the expense of hiring divorce lawyers and going to court. Naturally, this works best if the divorce is relatively amicable and the couple is willing to work together, perhaps with a mediator, to reach a resolution.
Of course, even the most well-meaning former spouses can butt heads during divorce and spousal maintenance discussions, which is why so many clients choose to have their attorneys handle the situation.
Attorneys have a firm grasp of the law surrounding divorce, and they can be valuable allies in maintenance negotiations. But hiring a lawyer and going to court can also be costly, making out-of-court negotiation preferable in many cases.
So how can you settle your spousal maintenance case without going to court? By hiring an experienced and objective divorce mediator in Minnesota to help you and your ex-spouse reach an agreement that you’re both satisfied with.
Are You or Your Spouse Seeking Maintenance?
If you and your spouse are in the process of divorce, the subject of spousal maintenance will undoubtedly come up at some point. Our Edina, Minnesota, team of divorce financial and mediation professionals at Divorce Financially can help you both navigate the process without going to court. This will save you time, stress, and money.
Let us know if you’re ready to get started with a free introductory call. Please call Divorce Financially in Edina, MN, at
(952) 428-7800 to schedule a complimentary consultation.
For a comprehensive review of your personal situation, always consult with a tax or legal advisor. Neither Cetera Advisor Networks LLC nor any of its representatives may give legal or tax advice.