Spousal Maintenance

Spousal maintenance, otherwise known as alimony, is paid by one former spouse to the other former spouse because he or she cannot financially support himself or herself for whatever reason. Spousal maintenance can either be temporary, for example for two years to allow the husband to finish a college degree or permanent because the wife was a housemaker for 25 years and does not have an education.

Although the parties are divorced, issues involving spousal maintenance may surface again requiring legal advice.


Common questions about spousal maintenance

What is spousal maintenance?

Minnesota Statute Section 518.003, subd. 3a describes it as “an award made in a dissolution or legal separation proceeding of payments from the future income or earnings of one spouse for the support and maintenance of the other”.  In other words, it is a monthly payment the higher income earning former spouse pays over some period of years so the former spouse can get financially on his or her feet. 

While an ex-spouse may feel he or she needs a certain amount money each month, that does not mean receiving spousal maintenance happens automatically.  Minnesota Statute Section 518.552 explains there are eight separate factors, which are subjective, a judge must weigh to determine if spousal maintenance shall be paid and if so, how much must be paid each month over what number of years.

How long is spousal maintenance paid for?

The length of time monthly spousal maintenance payments must be paid can vary widely.  The number of years of marriage, the couple’s financial standard of living, the financial income and resources each brought to the marriage and the age and health of each person affects the amount and length of these payments.  So does whether or not the lower to no income spouse is attending college or planning to soon enroll.

If a judge has to decide the payment amount and duration, Minnesota Statute 518.552, subd. 3 requires a judge to determine if the monthly payments should be a finite period of time, for example three years, or permanent.  The law requires a judge to order a permanent award allowing the higher earning former spouse the opportunity to file a Motion to Modify Spousal Maintenance in the future to try to have the amount and duration of the award changed.  A modification is not guaranteed.

Can spousal maintenance be backdated?

These payments for prior months are made if the divorcing couple agrees to it or if a judge orders this to occur. There is no automatic legal requirement for spousal maintenance to be paid for prior months. Judges have to decide on a case-by-case basis if such a financial award is appropriate.

Can spousal maintenance be reduced?

Spousal maintenance, whether through a settlement between the parties or court-ordered by a judge, can be reduced in certain circumstances. 

First, the parties’ written settlement or court order has to specifically say if and how the amount and/or length of the payments change and what event must occur for the change to apply, for example, the monthly amount is reduced by 50% for two years when a spouse graduates college. 

Second, if the agreement or court order allows for a reduction but does not clearly lay out how and when the reduction occurs, the person asking for a reduction must file a Motion for a court hearing to ask the judge for it to occur.  The person seeking the reduction must prove to the judge there has been a substantial change of circumstances making the current spousal maintenance award unreasonable and unfair.  

A judge cannot modify or reduce spousal maintenance payments when a prior court order states the amount and length of spousal maintenance are unchangeable no matter what financially happens to one or both of the parties in the future. 

What does spousal maintenance cover?

Minnesota law does not specifically define how a monthly spousal maintenance payment is spent.  It is defined as a financial award “for the support and maintenance” so the person receiving the money can spend it however he or she likes whether it is for food, rent or a mortgage payment, health insurance payments, vacations, or a brand-new vehicle.

How to get spousal maintenance?

Spousal maintenance is awarded in a divorce when the parties agree to it or a judge orders it. Minnesota Statute Section 518.552 explains a person seeking spousal maintenance must first have a need for it because he or she is physically or mentally unable to work part- or full-time or he or she will have fewer financial resources than the other spouse post-divorce.  From there, the person seeking spousal maintenance must prove:

The maintenance order shall be in amounts and for periods of time, either temporary or permanent, as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct, and after considering all relevant factors including:

  • the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to the party, and the party’s ability to meet needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for the support of a child living with the party includes a sum for that party as custodian;
  • the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, and the probability, given the party’s age and skills, of completing education or training and becoming fully or partially self-supporting;
  • the standard of living established during the marriage;
  • the duration of the marriage and, in the case of a homemaker, the length of absence from employment and the extent to which any education, skills, or experience have become outmoded and earning capacity has become permanently diminished;
  • the loss of earnings, seniority, retirement benefits and other employment opportunities forgone by the spouse seeking spousal maintenance;
  • the age, and the physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance;
  • the ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance; and
  • the contribution of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation, or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, as well as the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker or in furtherance of the other party’s employment or business.

While a divorcing spouse may have the need for spousal maintenance, that need is no guarantee he or she is going to receive it because the court has to take into account the ability of the other to pay it each month.

If you would like to schedule a consultation with a divorce attorney, please schedule an initial consultation appointment online and fill out the Consultation Intake Form.