Minnesota’s new alimony reform law is only a few months old and its real effects have yet to be seen or understood, but that law has created significant new challenges to alimony rulings in Minnesota divorce law cases. Before the law was enacted, an individual who was receiving alimony from a former spouse could live in a cohabitation arrangement apart from marriage with a new partner, and that arrangement could not be used to argue that alimony should be decreased or discontinued. Under the new law, evidence of cohabitation and its financial benefits can be used to modify and reduce alimony payments regardless of whether a former spouse remarries.
Cohabitation and the Reduction or Elimination of Alimony
Minnesota’s alimony reform law now allows former partners who are paying alimony to return to court after a divorce is finalized to request a reduction in the amount of alimony that is being paid, or even to request a suspension or a full termination of an alimony order. Modifications or terminations are not guaranteed, and the party paying alimony must introduce evidence to show that a former spouse is in a cohabitation arrangement that provides him or her with substantial economic benefits which would lessen the need the alimony recipient has for alimony.
The law’s proponents believe that this is a commonsense approach to changing societal conditions. Previously, a divorced spouse would be more likely to need to stay out of a workforce in order to maintain a house and to raise children, all of which justified alimony and maintenance payments unless that spouse were to remarry. In modern society, divorced spouses are perceived as being more likely to cohabitate with another adult without remarrying. The financial benefits of cohabitation are the same, and only the prospect of marriage that had previously justified ending alimony payments is absent.
Economic Benefits Received by Cohabitating Spouse
The law does provide some guidance for a judge who will be faced with a request to modify an alimony payment order, including whether the alimony recipient is declining to marry a cohabitating partner only because he or she wants to continue to receive alimony payments. A judge must also analyze the “economic benefits” that an alimony recipient is realizing as a result of a cohabitation arrangement. The law’s critics have argued that these guidelines will expose personal communications and other very private matters to examination by a judge and that this examination is at odds with Minnesota’s long history of “no fault” divorce proceedings
These guidelines also seemingly contradict other state laws that have not been changed and that preclude a judge from looking at the finances of a remarried spouse’s new partner to determine appropriate alimony payments.
Lastly, a judge will need to consider the economic impact on a former spouse if his or her alimony payments end. “Economic impact” will almost always be substantial if one partner in a relationship were to stop receiving regular monthly income, and judges can easily rely on this guideline alone to refuse to modify an alimony or maintenance order. The state’s divorce bar is watching closely to see how this law will influence decisions by former spouses to live with a new partner following a divorce.
Impact of Minnesota Spousal Maintenance Reform
Like many new laws, the impact of Minnesota’s alimony reform law will not be understood for several years after its enactment. Divorced parties who believe that they are being treated unfairly with respect to alimony payments will now at least be able to use the law in an attempt to rebalance a relationship with a former spouse. The attorneys at Gilbert Alden PLLC in Burnsville are closely following developments with the law and how it affects divorced spouses. If you have questions about the alimony reform law or any other aspect of divorce law in Minnesota, please contact us to schedule a confidential consultation.