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The Status of Alimony in Minnesota and Beyond

The concept of spousal support, or spousal maintenance as it is known in Minnesota, originated at a time when divorce was based on fault and women were largely excluded from the workforce, making its purpose clear: to provide economic security to women who would otherwise face a post-divorce life in poverty through no fault of their own.

As the economic and social status of women evolved, so did attitudes about the purpose and utility of alimony. By the 1970s, long-term or permanent alimony was largely seen as an antiquated notion incompatible with contemporary values and the growing role of women in the workforce. However, in the 1980s, cultural values about women and family evolved and permanent alimony was once again embraced. Recent trends in case law, legislation and cultural values indicate that alimony is once again falling out of favor.

Alimony-reform on the National Agenda

In recent years, alimony-reform advocacy groups have been formed in at least half a dozen states, and they are already seeing results. Commissions or legislative committees to review alimony-reform proposals up to and including its complete elimination have been formed in several states, and a few states have already amended their alimony laws. The amendments range from eliminating alimony entirely for short-term marriages to only allowing time-limited awards for long-term marriages and making cohabitation grounds for modification or termination of spousal maintenance.

The Status of Spousal Maintenance in Minnesota

Minnesota has not yet amended its spousal support laws. However, a draft of alimony-reform legislation commissioned by an informal bipartisan group of legislators is suggestive of what kind of changes may be proposed in the future:

  • Eliminating any preference for permanent alimony, in some cases
  • Mandatory consideration of a recipient’s prospective ability to provide self-support when setting alimony
  • “Bridge-the-gap” alimony lasting no more than two years
  • “Rehabilitative” alimony, but only if accompanied by a specific, identified rehabilitation plan
  • “Durational” alimony limited to periods less than length of marriage
  • Restrict long-term spousal support awards to marriages of 20 or more years, to marriages lasting between 7 and 19 years if justified by “clear and convincing evidence” and to marriages of less than seven years duration if necessary because of “exceptional circumstances”
  • Retirement of the person paying alimony may be grounds for modifying or terminating maintenance
  • Cohabitation of the person receiving alimony may be grounds for modifying or terminating maintenance
  • Except in “exceptional circumstances,” no spousal maintenance award should result in the payor’s net income being less than the recipient’s

The changing attitudes about alimony can also be seen in some recent Minnesota Court of Appeals cases. In one case of which many family law attorneys took note, the Court of Appeals held that a trial court may factor the recipient’s prospective income into an alimony award without any finding that the recipient’s unemployment or underemployment was the result of bad faith. Some have said this opinion means prospective income will always be imputed to the recipient, requiring everyone to work post-divorce to maintain pre-divorce standard of living, even after a long marriage and without regard to situations where the recipient isn’t able to find a job because of bad economy, competitive job market or other factors beyond his or her control. The scope or affect of the court’s ruling remains to be seen.

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If you have questions about spousal support, contact us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your concerns.