December 29th, 2022
Divorce can bring significant financial changes to the lives of the parties — particularly for a spouse who was economically dependent upon the other. Spousal maintenance can be crucial to help a spouse who was not employed during the marriage get back on their feet after divorce. However, following a divorce, it’s not uncommon for the spouses to begin new relationships or choose to reside with a new partner. It’s important for a party receiving spousal maintenance to understand how cohabitation can affect their award.
What is Spousal Maintenance?
Commonly referred to as “alimony,” spousal maintenance is payment made by the higher-earning spouse to the dependent spouse after the marriage has legally ended. There is no law in Minnesota that provides a formula by which to calculate spousal maintenance. Rather, the statute only specifies that the amount must be fair, and the court must consider all relevant factors under the statute— with the exception of marital misconduct, which cannot be considered. Length of marriage is only one factor in the determination.
There are three types of spousal maintenance that can be awarded in Minnesota:
- Temporary maintenance — This is paid while the divorce action is pending.
- Short-term maintenance — This type of maintenance is paid for a short duration while the spouse receiving payments is trying to find a job or finishing an education program and transitioning to being self-supporting.
- Long-term maintenance — An order for long-term maintenance can remain in effect permanently until a certain event occurs, or until a court modifies the order.
Spousal maintenance can only be awarded in limited circumstances in Minnesota. A court will consider a maintenance award to be appropriate if one spouse does not have sufficient property to reasonably provide for their needs, taking the “standard of living” during the marriage into consideration. Maintenance may also be awarded in the event a spouse is unable to be self-supporting or they have custody of a child with special needs and cannot work outside the home.
What Does Cohabitation Mean?
Minnesota law does not specify what “cohabitation” means for the purposes of determining whether an order for spousal maintenance should be modified or terminated. However, it can be defined as a living arrangement entered into by two people who are not married. Specifically, to prove cohabitation, it is necessary to show a shared residence and romantic relationship.
What are the Effects of Cohabitation on Spousal Maintenance in Minnesota?
Cohabitation can have a significant impact on a spousal maintenance award. While a maintenance award used to terminate upon the remarriage or death of the receiving spouse, the law currently permits a modification if the receiving spouse moves in with a significant other. If the spouse receiving maintenance is cohabitating with another adult, the award can be modified with a reduction, suspension, reservation, or termination.
To decide if a spousal maintenance award should be modified or terminated due to cohabitation, a judge will evaluate the following four factors:
(1) Whether the party receiving maintenance would marry the person with whom they were cohabitating, but for the maintenance award;
(2) The economic benefit the party receiving maintenance derives from the cohabitation;
(3) The length of the cohabitation and likely future duration; and
(4) The financial impact on the party receiving maintenance if the cohabitation ends.
The party paying the spousal maintenance must also demonstrate that the terms of the award are unreasonable and unfair based on the cohabitation.
When is a Modification Prohibited on the Grounds of Cohabitation?
A court is not permitted to modify spousal maintenance based only on cohabitation if marriage would be legally prohibited between the cohabitant and the party receiving the award. Prohibited civil marriages in Minnesota include those entered before the dissolution of two parties is finalized; marriages between relatives; and marriages involving minors. Marriages involving developmentally disabled persons committed to guardianships are also disallowed unless the commissioner of human services consents in writing.
A motion to modify spousal maintenance due to cohabitation may not be brought within one year of the date of entry on the divorce decree, unless the parties agree to the motion in writing — or the court finds that disallowing the motion would cause extreme hardship. A modification must also be precluded or limited if the parties have entered into a private written agreement or a Karon waiver. Named for the 1988 Minnesota court case, Karon v. Karon, this type of agreement eliminates the court’s authority to modify a spousal maintenance award, regardless of a change in financial circumstances, unless the parties specify exceptions for changes as part of the Karon waiver. Parties can stipulate to specific changes upon cohabitation in order to avoid needing to bring a motion and litigate the issue.
Contact a Knowledgeable Minnesota Divorce Attorney
Minnesota’s spousal maintenance law can be complex, and it’s essential to have an experienced attorney by your side to protect your rights during the divorce process. Divorce and family law attorney Louise Livesay has been dedicated to helping clients in the Twin Cities area resolve divorce matters peacefully and respectfully for over two decades. We welcome you to contact us online for a consultation or by calling 651-294-2338.