Upon the dissolution of any marriage in Minnesota and in legal separation proceedings, either party may petition for an award of spousal maintenance from their spouse. In determining whether or not a party is in need of continuing payments from the earnings of their spouse during the time the proceeding is underway and/or following the entry of a final decree, the Court analyzes several factors required by Minnesota Statute Section 518.552. Marital misconduct is not considered when determining whether or not to grant spousal maintenance.
Temporary or Permanent Spousal Maintenance
The Court may grant temporary or permanent spousal maintenance if the spouse requesting maintenance/alimony:
- Lacks sufficient property, including marital property apportioned to the spouse, to provide for reasonable needs of the spouse considering the standard of living established during the marriage, especially, but not limited to, a period of training or education, or
- Is unable to provide adequate self-support, after considering the standard of living established during the marriage and all relevant circumstances, through appropriate employment, or is the custodian of a child whose condition or circumstances make it appropriate that the custodian not be required to seek employment outside the home.
The foregoing are considered threshold factors, in that the spouse requesting maintenance must satisfy either one of these two factors before a Court will consider awarding temporary or permanent spousal maintenance. In addition, the spouse requesting maintenance must show they have a need for maintenance, after considering financial resources available from property awarded to them in the divorce or from other sources.
Factors Court Assesses in Determining Award
If the Court decides that maintenance is appropriate, it will order payment of maintenance in amounts and for periods of time that it deems just, without regard to marital misconduct, and after considering all relevant factors. No mathematical formula is used by statute and the Court must assess the following factors in determining a just award:
- The financial resources of the person seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to the person, and the person's ability to meet needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for support of a child living with the person includes a sum for that person as custodian;
- The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the person seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, and the probability, given the person'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 foregone 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 person 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 person's employment or business.
A temporary award is generally made to provide support for a fixed (limited) period of time, usually to enable the requesting party to complete training or education to become self-supporting. A permanent award continues indefinitely or until the occurrence of some stated event, such as remarriage of the requesting party, death of either party, retirement of the obligor, or further court order. A temporary award of maintenance is not favored over a permanent award where the above factors justify a permanent award. Finally, where there is some uncertainty as to the necessity of a permanent award, the court is required to make the award of maintenance permanent, but subject to later modification.
No Precise Formula
Unlike child support, there is no precise formula for determining the amount or duration of an award of spousal maintenance. Given the absence of any formula, the amount and duration of spousal maintenance awards can be strongly contested by parties in a divorce and the decision is left to the trial judge's broad discretion. The final decision of the trial judge will not be overturned on appeal unless the trial court abused its broad discretion, meaning that the decision constitutes a clearly erroneous conclusion that is against logic and the facts presented to the trial court.
As with any issue in a divorce proceeding, efforts should be made early in the proceeding to evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of this claim by comparing the facts presented to other reported cases, which can serve to guide the lawyer and client in determining what settlement offers should be made or considered.