One of the most difficult areas of Minnesota family law (for both lawyers and clients) is spousal maintenance, otherwise known as alimony. Unlike child support, there is no formula that you can plug numbers into and come away with a good answer.
Instead, awards of spousal maintenance are based on social norms and public policy—therefore, not entirely consistent, and subject to significant change over time. In the end, whether or not spousal maintenance is granted may come down simply to what one person thinks is “fair”—and what is fair to one person, is not always fair to another, especially the person ordered to pay.
That said, there are some criteria that the court must take into account when determining whether spousal maintenance should be awarded and, if so, how much.
Some of those criteria include:
- Does the party seeking spousal maintenance have sufficient assets to support herself? The court only considers income from the assets awarded, and not an invasion of the asset itself. So, consider awarding the spouse who might receive spousal maintenance assets capable of producing income (i.e., rental properties, dividend-paying stock, etc.).
- Is the spouse seeking spousal maintenance “self-supporting?” The court will consider if the spouse seeking spousal maintenance is appropriately employed.
- What standard of living did the parties have during the marriage? A higher standard of living during the marriage may show that spousal maintenance is appropriate.
- Do the children have specific needs which require a parent to stay home or some other reason to justify one parent continuing to be a stay-at-home parent?
- If spousal maintenance is needed, how much?
- Can education or training allow a party to become self-supporting at some point?
- What is the financial ability of the paying party?
- How old are the parties?
- What is the physical and emotional condition of the party seeking spousal maintenance?
- How long should a party receive spousal maintenance?
In many cases, it is possible to secure a waiver of spousal maintenance as part of an agreement to settle property issues, and sometimes even in exchange for parenting time or custody.
Spousal maintenance is also, generally, taxable income to the recipient and tax deductible for the paying spouse.
Cases involving spousal maintenance deserve and require a significant conversation with your lawyer about your particular circumstances. Skilled lawyers, accountants and financial planners can assist in creating a settlement or a court strategy that maximizes the net result to their clients.
Andrew M. Tatge is a business and family law attorney with Gislason & Hunter LLP (www.gislason.com) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (507) 387-1115. This information is general in nature and should not be construed as tax or legal advice.