A Guide to Alimony in Minnesota

Learn about Minnesota alimony laws, the types of spousal support, and how courts determine alimony orders.

Minnesota Alimony

Alimony in Minnesota is legally known as spousal maintenance and is sometimes referred to as spousal support or simply maintenance.  If you’re involved with a maintenance issue in Minnesota, here’s what you need to know.

Who is Entitled to Maintenance in Minnesota?

Judges determine spousal maintenance awards on a case-by-case basis.  No set formulas are used, giving the court wide discretion on how to make an award.

During or after a divorce or legal separation, either spouse may ask for maintenance from the other.  At the start of the process, the first thing courts will look at is whether or not a spouse lacks sufficient property and financial resources to meet reasonable needs and a standard of living maintained during the marriage or is unable to support themselves with their own income.

The other standard is whether or not a spouse has the means to pay the other and if so, to what degree.

Types of Maintenance in Minnesota

Courts can award three types of spousal maintenance in Minnesota:

Temporary maintenance can be awarded to one spouse while a divorce is pending.  This is also often referred to as pendente lite alimony.  If the court finds a dependent spouse will struggle, the court may award support until the divorce is final. A judge may issue a new and different award, keep the award the same, or find no award warranted.

After the divorce is final, the court can award spousal maintenance, also often referred to as rehabilitative maintenance, but for a different purpose.  Usually, the type of award is created to give a spouse time to gain employment, education, or job skills required to maintain or improve their livelihood. Specific circumstances like these require one spouse to pay support for a limited time while the other spouse “gets back on their feet.” Once the temporary period ends, it is up to the individual receiving the maintenance to prove why it should be extended if the need still exists.

The obligee can petition the court to extend the term unless the parties have entered into a “Karon” waiver.  A Karon waiver is executed when the parties have agreed on a specific amount for a particular period as a part of their entire property settlement.  The court is barred from modifying the original terms with a Karon waiver.

Using a specific set of circumstances, a judge may award permanent maintenance.  Typically this occurs after a long marriage (usually over 20 years), with a substantial disparity between incomes.

A permanent maintenance order requires detailed instructions that will specify the payments. When permanent support isn’t needed, provisions in the order can allow for future modifications.

Permanent spousal maintenance will terminate once one spouse dies, a remarriage occurs, or by future court order. It is important to understand that a permanent spousal maintenance award may change if the obligor (person ordered to pay maintenance) chooses to retire from working.

Many spouses prefer to reach their own agreement about maintenance because they understand their circumstances better than the court.  This can be difficult and often requires assistance from a mediator.  The court must also approve all agreements to ensure the agreement is fair and just to both parties.

Read More:  How to File for Divorce in Minnesota

What Factors Are Used to Determine Alimony?

Minnesota alimony laws set three general criteria for determining maintenance.  They are:

(1) that the amount be “just,”

(2) that the court consider “all relevant factors,”

(3) that the court not consider “marital misconduct” as a factor.

State statutes identify several relevant factors the court should consider, including:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The income of each party
  • Financial resources like marital property or other assets. Depending on the size of the marital estate, the spouse seeking maintenance may receive enough property that spousal maintenance would no longer be necessary.
  • The age of each spouse can affect whether or not they can work or have the ability to train or learn the job skills necessary to acquire income.
  • Education, job history, work experience, or other skills of the party seeking maintenance.
  • The standard of living that occurred during the marriage.
  • Loss of earnings, seniority, retirement benefits, and any other financial opportunities that a spouse may have ignored or declined.
  • Emotional and physical health
  • Contributions to marital property
  • Other factors as deemed appropriate by the court

Read More:  Divorce Laws in Minnesota

Modifying or Terminating Maintenance in Minnesota

At any time, either spouse can request a modification.  The requesting spouse must demonstrate a significant change of circumstances for calculating alimony since the last order.

In 2016, Minnesota adopted the Cohabitation Alimony Reform Bill, making it easier for a paying spouse to modify maintenance if the supported spouse is living with a new partner (cohabitating). The paying spouse must wait at least 12 months after the initial support order to ask for a review based on cohabitation.

There are several other reasons why Minnesota alimony may change after an order has been signed. They can range from clerical errors in spousal maintenance payments, fraud, or falsification of information to health and employment changes that are significant and ongoing.

Enforcing Minnesota Maintenance Awards

A spousal maintenance award is part of the court order, so several potential consequences can occur if a payor does not meet their obligation in a timely way.  Past due support is known as arrears.

These potential consequences include:

  • After the amount of arrears is 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. In some cases, being found in contempt of the court order can result in fines, attorney fees, and jail time.
  • Having a judgment against them can result in collection actions such as wage garnishment, levying bank accounts, or the seizure of personal property, including vehicles.
  • Driver’s license or professional licenses suspension or restrictions
  • Having their retirement benefits taken from their 401(k) to satisfy the arrears as a result of a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO).

Although spousal maintenance in Minnesota is often a temporary order, arrears can be collected for several years after the end of the predetermined duration of the support.  Ex-spouses who are owed money have six years to pursue collection.

To start the enforcement process, the party 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.  The obligor has 20 days to pay the arrears in full as outlined in the affidavit or request a hearing.

If the obligor doesn’t pay the arrears within the timeframe given or requests a hearing, the obligee can then seek a contempt of court order judgment from the court.  When the contempt of court charge is effective, arrears also starts accumulating 4% interest on the judgment until it is paid in full.

Read More:  How to Protect and Rebuild Your Credit in a Divorce


Spousal Support and Taxes

Due to recent changes in Federal laws, the payer cannot deduct alimony or separate maintenance payments under a divorce or separation instrument executed after 2018. These payments are also not included as taxable income for recipients.

The same is true of alimony paid under a divorce or separation instrument executed before 2019 and modified after 2018 if the modification expressly states that the alimony isn’t deductible to the payor spouse or included in the income of the recipient spouse.

Taxpayers paying alimony under a divorce agreement executed before 2019 can deduct those payments from taxes when the following criteria are met:

  • The recipient must be a spouse or former spouse
  • There must be a written divorce or separation instrument
  • Alimony must be made with cash payments (such as checks and money orders)
  • Maintenance does not continue after the recipient dies
  • The parties must live apart, residing in different households
  • The parties must file separate tax returns (they cannot file a joint return and claim the alimony deduction)
  • The court-ordered payment of alimony cannot state that payments are not deductible

Minnesota Alimony FAQs

Can spouses create their own alimony agreement?

Yes, divorcing couples can come to an agreement on their own or with the help of a mediator. You only need to go to court if you and your spouse are unable to reach agreement and need a judge to decide.

How does cohabitation affect alimony?

If the person receiving spousal support remarries, support automatically terminates unless the divorcing spouses specifically agree otherwise.  Some people try to get around this by simply living with a new romantic partner instead of marrying them.  However, depending on the circumstances, cohabitation can lead to spousal support ending as well.

Is custodial status for minor children considered when determining alimony?

Yes, alimony calculations are affected by whether or not the receiving spouse has custody of the children. A judge considers custodial status when determining alimony payments.  Generally, custodial spouses may receive higher alimony payments.

Can a prenuptial agreement waive alimony?

Minnesota courts will review a prenuptial agreement that waives alimony payments. If the agreement is fair and just, the prenuptial agreement will be enforced and supersede requests for alimony as part of a divorce at a later time.

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