Spousal maintenance is awarded in some Minnesota divorces to provide for the support of a party who is not in a position to support him or herself. Depending on the circumstances, spousal maintenance may be for a relatively short duration to allow the receiving spouse to acquire skills or experience needed to become self-supporting, or long-term to provide for a spouse who cannot realistically be expected to ever be able to fully support him or herself.
What happens if circumstances change after divorce, as they so often do? What if the paying spouse becomes ill and can no longer work? What if the receiving spouse inherits a large sum of money? Here is a look at whether, when, and how Minnesota spousal maintenance can be modified.
In the absence of a court order to the contrary, either party can ask for spousal maintenance to be modified. In general, spousal maintenance in Minnesota may be modified upon a showing of a significant change of circumstances. The most common change of circumstances is for one party to have a major change in income or a job loss by no fault of their own. An unavoidable increase in expenses can also be considered sufficient change of circumstances, particularly if the expenses are tied to the need for health treatment for one of the parties. If a party is seriously ill, he or she may be experiencing both a decrease in the ability to earn along with an increase in expenses.
Permanent spousal maintenance is sometimes awarded in Minnesota divorces, often in cases where the spouses were married for a very long time and one spouse stayed at home with the couple's children at the expense of his or her earning capacity. Because these cases typically involve payee spouses who are unlikely to be able to become self-sufficient, spousal maintenance may in practice become permanent. But a better descriptor for this type of support would be long-term spousal maintenance, because a significant change of circumstances could cause it to be terminated or reduced.
A Minnesota court cannot ever order spousal maintenance to be non-modifiable, however, the spouses themselves may consent to this.
The one circumstance in which Minnesota spousal maintenance cannot be modified is when the spouses have agreed to what is known as a “Karon waiver.” A Karon waiver, named after the 1989 Minnesota Supreme Court case Karon v. Karon, is an agreement between a divorcing husband and wife to set the duration and amount of spousal maintenance payments forever (or waive them altogether). The advantage of the Karon waiver is certainty and convenience; both parties can know what they will be paying or receiving, and for how long. Karon waivers also avoid the prospect of returning to court to argue that spousal maintenance should be increased, decreased, terminated or extended.
The price of this certainty and convenience, of course, is that the parties give up the right to seek relief if the spousal maintenance agreement they made years ago does not suit their current needs. That is, when a valid Karon waiver is in place, a spousal maintenance obligation cannot be modified regardless of a loss of job, decline in health, lottery win or similar events. Since spousal maintenance obligations are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, obligors especially should not take the waiver of their right to modify spousal maintenance payments lightly. It is very important to discuss the potential ramifications of a Karon waiver with an experienced Minnesota divorce attorney.
Having an experienced attorney help with your spousal maintenance issue can make a big difference in how much you pay or receive over a period of years or even decades, which means the attorney's fee isn't an expense: it's an investment. We invite you to contact Bloch and Whitehouse, P.A. at (952) 224-9977 to schedule a free initial consultation. We look forward to working with you.