How does the new legislation regarding cohabitation affect spousal maintenance?

If you are a former spouse who pays spousal maintenance or receives spousal maintenance, you need to be aware of a significant change to our spousal maintenance law that became effective August 1, 2016.  A former spouse who is in a new relationship could potentially have his or her spousal maintenance reduced, suspended or eliminated.  The new law, which is Minnesota Statute §518.552, subdivision 6 reads:

(a)  Spousal maintenance may be modified pursuant to section 518A.39 subdivision 2, based on the cohabitation by the maintenance obligee (person receiving spousal maintenance) with another adult following dissolution of marriage. The modification may consist of a reduction, suspension, reservation or termination of maintenance.  In determining if maintenance should be modified due to cohabitation, the court shall consider:

(1) Whether the obligee would marry the cohabitant but for the maintenance award;

(2) The economic benefit the obligee derives from the cohabitation;

(3) The length of the cohabitation and the likely future duration of the cohabitation; and

(4) The economic impact on the obligee if maintenance is modified and the cohabitation ends.

(b) The court must not modify a maintenance award based solely on cohabitation if a marriage between the obligee and the cohabitant would be prohibited under section 517.03, subdivision 1, clause (2) or (3). A modification under this subdivision must be precluded or limited to the extent the parties have entered into a private agreement under subdivision 5.

(c) A motion to modify a spousal maintenance award on the basis of cohabitation may not be brought within one year of the entry of the date of the decree of dissolution or legal separation that orders spousal maintenance, unless the parties have agreed in writing that a motion may be brought or the court finds that failing to allow the motion to proceed would create an extreme hardship for one of the parties.

The legislature recognized some former spouses in new relationships were not getting married in order to continue collecting spousal maintenance although their financial situation was improved by the new second income.

This new law does not apply to a former spouse who has a non-romantic roommate or one who lives with an adult child.

Divorcing couples need to be aware of how to approach spousal maintenance now with this new legislation especially couples who are intending to proceed without attorneys in order to have their spousal maintenance comply with the new law.

Do you have questions about how this change could affect spousal maintenance?  Contact experienced family law attorney Jessica L. Sterle to schedule a consultation by calling (218) 722-2655.

Jessica Sterle