How Minnesota Divorce Lawyers Deal With the 2019 Alimony Change

Statistically, it is very difficult for divorced women to rebuild wealth. Therefore, spousal maintenance is an important part of most Minnesota divorces. Beginning on January 1, 2019, alimony will be a lot different.

One change went into effect in August 2016. The new alimony reform law actually affected spousal support modifications, which means that the law is just now coming into play. The Cohabitation Alimony Reform Bill makes it easier to modify alimony based on future cohabitation. There was a concern among many Minnesota Divorce Lawyers that ex-spouses lived with their partners but did not get married so as to not affect their alimony.

The new law does not outlaw this practice, but it does give obligor spouses a fighting chance. Instead of simply looking at the exchange of vows, judges may consider several factors, such as the length of cohabitation and the economic benefit which the ex-spouse receives from this arrangement.

The other big change was part of the December 2017 tax reform package. Currently, alimony payments are tax-deductible and alimony receipts are taxable income. Effective January 1, 2019, both these things go away. The obligor can no longer deduct alimony payments, and the obligee does not have to report the payments to the IRS or MDR.

For tax purposes, spousal support payment will be like child support payments. Neither payments nor receipts have any tax consequences. If alimony reformers had their way, the entire system would change along these lines. Many people decry the subjective nature of alimony in places like Minnesota. In the summer of 2017, there were rumblings that the Legislature would soon consider a comprehensive alimony reform bill. But so far, nothing has materialized.

Do You Qualify for Alimony in MN?

In Minnesota, alimony is also known as spousal maintenance or spousal support. Spousal support can either be court-ordered or drawn up by a divorce lawyer. But what exactly is alimony?

The concept of alimony came about because the majority of families used to live off of one salary while the other spouse tended to house duties. After divorce, the unemployed spouse would have trouble making ends meet. So, alimony was designed to help provide support until the unemployed spouse found work or got remarried.

Times have changed, but alimony is still a big part of divorce proceedings. Now, the higher-earning spouse must make monthly payments to the lesser-earning spouse. 

Of course, the law is completely genderless. That means the lower-earning spouse can get alimony regardless of their sex.

Today, there are two major requirements for spousal maintenance. The first is that the lower-earning spouse lacks the assets he or she needs to maintain the marital standard of living post-divorce. 

A court might also award alimony if the lower-earning spouse can’t support himself or herself. This also applies when one spouse is the custodial parent and, due to the child’s circumstances, must remain unemployed.

In most Minnesota divorce agreements, the alimony amount depends on how long the marriage lasts. The shorter the marriage, the less spousal support, and vice versa.

 

Spousal Support Termination

Spousal support isn’t always for a lifetime. As we mentioned above, moving in with an adult partner can be grounds for alimony termination. 

To prove the cohabitation is worthy of canceling spousal support, the court must evaluate various factors, including whether there are grounds to think the partners would marry if not for the alimony payments and the impact on the lesser-earning spouse if alimony payments ended.

But that’s not the only way you can lose your spousal maintenance payments.

Even before the new alimony laws, if the lower-earning spouse remarried, that was grounds for termination. Of course, Minnesota also allows spousal maintenance to be terminated if either spouse dies.

 

Can a Minnesota Divorce Attorney Set Up an Alimony Agreement?

Yes! You don’t need a judge to create an alimony agreement, only to enforce one. If you and your spouse can agree on the terms, a divorce lawyer in Minnesota can draw up the agreement, present it to your divorce court judge, and get a court order to enforce it.

Usually, this type of alimony agreement gets drafted as part of the divorce decree. But if you and your spouse can’t come to an agreement, you may still be able to compromise outside of court.

Many couples bring their alimony disputes to a mediator or Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE). Here, an expert in mediation will help you and your spouse come to a compromise. If you still can’t agree on spousal support at this point, the case will go to court, and a judge will determine spousal support at his or her own discretion.

Prenuptial Agreements and Alimony in Minnesota

The best divorce attorney can also help you and your spouse draft a prenuptial agreement, also known as a premarital agreement. Engaged couples often ask their attorneys to include alimony agreements in prenups. 

As long as an attorney drafts the premarital agreement and you and your spouse agree on the terms of alimony, this agreement is enforceable in a Minnesota court. It would have precedence over any other alimony agreement made by you or a judge.

In your prenuptial agreement, you and your spouse can specify who will receive alimony. It should also detail the amount and type of alimony the receiving spouse is eligible for. We’ll talk more about the types of alimony you can get in Minnesota next.

 

What Types of Alimony Can Minnesota Divorce Lawyers Set Up?

As it stands, Minnesota law contains three different kinds of alimony. A Minnesota judge may order any, all, or none of these types.

  • Temporary Maintenance: While the case is pending, many spouses have immediate and unexpected financial needs. These needs include things like attorneys’ fees, property deposits, and household maintenance expenses such as rent and utilities. Temporary maintenance gives spouses the money they need to meet these expenses. Income is basically the only factor. Courts rarely look at the broader picture.
  • Short-Term Maintenance: These payments are appropriate if a spouse needs some additional help after the divorce to become self-sufficient. That could be money to finish a college degree or an additional income stream because the spouse must accept a lower-paying entry level job. Other ex-spouses need money while they wait for a house to sell.
  • Long-Term Maintenance: Reformers hate this third type of alimony. It is subjective and also clearly designed to redistribute income. Although the rule is not set in stone, most Wright County judges do not award long-term alimony unless the spouse can never become self-sufficient, perhaps due to a disability, or the marriage lasted longer than ten years.

Minnesota Divorce Lawyers may usually modify the alimony terms based on changed circumstances. As discussed above, the 2016 alimony reform bill made these motions easier to prove in some situations.

Factors in Determining Amount of Payments

The above categories roughly coincide with the duration of alimony payments. For example, temporary maintenance automatically ends when the judge signs the decree. As for the amount of payments, the judge basically weighs the obligee spouse’s economic need against the obligor spouse’s ability to pay. Some specific factors include:

  • Each Spouse’s Economic Means: In addition to employment and other income streams, the judge may normally take the property settlement into consideration. That includes any award of separate property.
  • Educational Need: Obligor spouses do not need to help pay for self-improvement classes. But they do have a legal obligation to help pay for courses related to economic self-sufficiency. That status is in everyone’s best interest.
  • Standard of Living During the Marriage: This factor looms large in long-term maintenance awards. According to the law, the divorce should not be an unfair financial burden for either spouse. Some financial pain is inevitable. But, it should be evenly spread between the parties to the greatest extent possible.

Fault in the breakup of the marriage is not relevant with regard to alimony. But Minnesota Divorce Lawyers may be able to introduce such evidence in the property division phase, through a back door called the dissipation (waste) rule. If Wife spent $10,000 on a gift for a boyfriend, Husband may be entitled to reimbursement for the community share.

Can Minnesota Divorce Attorneys Modify Your Alimony Agreement?

When the alimony is initially awarded, you and your spouse can request a no modification agreement. This is what’s known as a Karon Waiver. This waiver is named after a 1989 case where a former spouse sought an increase in alimony after agreeing to waive her right to modification during the divorce proceedings.

Karon Waivers specify that either one or both spouses will forfeit the right to request an alimony modification down the road. But barring one of these agreements, the best Minnesota divorce lawyer could ask for an alimony modification in certain situations.

The most common reason for a request to modify alimony is if the receiving spouse experiences a change of circumstances. For example, say the receiving spouse’s income decreases or, alternatively, his or her expenses increase. In this case, the receiving spouse could request a modification to increase alimony payments. 

The paying spouse can also request an alimony modification. As we’ve mentioned, this usually only occurs if the receiving spouse remarries or passes away. Under Minnesota’s new alimony mandates, the paying spouse’s divorce attorney might seek to decrease or eliminate spousal support due to cohabitation.

Learn from a MN Divorce Lawyer How Changes in Alimony Law Might Benefit You

Parts of the alimony law are changing, but other parts are still the same. For a free consultation with experienced Minnesota Divorce Lawyers, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.

Original article published June 16, 2018 and updated September 23, 2021.

When Can Minnesota Family Lawyers Modify Child Support Obligations?

For many families, child support payments are a significant chunk of their monthly income. But only about a third of obligees (people receiving support) receive the full amount every month. Many obligors (people paying support) pay what they feel is fair as opposed to what is ordered. In these situations, the child support amount should probably be modified, so obligor, obligees, and children have similar expectations.

Child support obligations are somewhat easier to modify in Minnesota than they are in some other jurisdictions. The Gopher State is an income share state. Since the child support obligation accounts for a number of economic and noneconomic factors, judges can usually modify support amounts.

Intentionally underpaying support is a bad idea. It’s only a matter of time before the state takes action. So, whether you need to increase or decrease the child support obligation, it’s best to partner with a Minnesota family lawyer.

Income Decreases

Monthly income is one of the leading factors in child support determinations. So, if the obligor’s income has decreased, a child support modification is usually in order. It’s normally best to act quickly in these cases since child support decreases are normally not retroactive.

Proof of income is normally enough evidence, particularly for obligors who only have W-2 income. Self-employed obligors might need to submit additional proof, such as several years of tax returns or several months of bank statements, to show the income decrease was authentic and consistent.

Minnesota family lawyers usually cannot decrease the amount if there is evidence that the obligor intentionally left a higher-paying job to reduce his or her child support obligation. Evidence of intentional underemployment includes things such as social media posts or likes about the high cost of child support or the supposed unfairness of these payments. Such chatter is especially common on some dubious fathers’ rights websites.

Minnesota Family Lawyers and Income Increases

Income increases are a bit more difficult to prove unless a Minnesota family lawyer conducts extensive discovery. This process is often expensive and time-consuming. So, it’s better to look for circumstantial evidence of income increase, like lifestyle upgrades or a sudden improved ability to pay monthly bills. If the obligor contests the increase despite this evidence, many judges order obligors to pay the other side’s attorneys’ fees.

Establishing changed income is not enough. That change must also be substantial and permanent. As a rule of thumb, any change greater than about 10 percent is substantial. Judges mike modify child support obligations for lesser amounts, but such changes are not easy. Additionally, the increased income must be permanent. Self-employment income spikes and occasional bonuses are almost always insufficient.

Income change modifications are typically agreed motions. Generally, a Minnesota family lawyer simply submits these orders. Most judges sign them without hearings.

Frequently, both parents are not 100 percent convinced that a modification is needed. Pre-filing mediation is often useful in these situations. A third-party mediator, who is usually an unaffiliated Minnesota family lawyer, works with both sides to facilitate a settlement.

Assuming both parties negotiate in good faith, mediation is about 90 percent successful. This form of alternative dispute resolution saves everyone time and money.

Emotional Changes

The timesharing arrangement is also a factor in Minnesota child support orders. So, the timesharing division is also a potential factor in child support modification actions. However, emotional-based modifications are not easy to prove.

The same basic principles apply. The emotional changes must be substantial. Usually, only a significant change in the number of overnight visits convinces judges to make such modifications. Alternatively, conversions from partial visitation to full visitation might suffice as well. For example, Father might have had limited contact with his son until he overcame an alcohol addiction.

Parental Alienation Syndrome, which comes in many forms, often clouds these issues. Alienating parents try to drive an emotional wedge between the targeted parent and the child. If the judge sees any evidence of PAS, such as a sudden change of parental preference, they will usually not modify custody or support unless a social worker makes a favorable recommendation.

Talk to a Compassionate Attorney

Various factors could support a successful child support modification motion. For a free consultation with an experienced Minnesota family lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Home and after-hours visits are available.

Why Do Minnesota Divorce Lawyers Pursue Mediation?

Sometimes, attorneys have no choice in the matter. Minnesota judges almost always refer contested marriage dissolution cases to mediation. Courts usually define “contested” as those cases where both the petition and respondent file paperwork. Mediation is a much more efficient use of judicial resources than trials.

Mediation has some tangible benefits for the litigants as well. However, not all divorce litigants see things the same way. In fact, most people think that divorce mediation will be a waste of time and money. If talking could have solved our problems, they reason, we would not have hired Minnesota divorce lawyers in the first place. Yet the vast majority of litigants resolve at least most of their issues during mediation. That successful track record is enough to make mediation worth a try. An effective Minnesota divorce lawyer raises the chances of success even higher.

How It Works

Most divorce trials are emotionally-charged events. As the testimony unfolds, all those old hurts and insecurities erupt. But mediation has a much different setting. These sessions usually occur in an office setting as opposed to a courtroom. There is no one in the gallery and there is certainly no jury. Instead of a judge, there is only a mediator. This person is usually either a retired family law judge or a Minnesota divorce lawyer who is unaffiliated with the case.

By design, the mediator knows almost nothing about the case when things get started. After each side gives a brief opening statement, they retire to separate rooms and basically cool their heels. Then, the mediator conveys settlement offers back and forth until the parties reach an agreement.

For example, Wife might insist that $2,000 a month in alimony is a reasonable amount according to the listed factors. Husband might argue that he can only afford to pay $1,000 a month once the tax law changes in January 2019. The mediator can explain these arguments to both sides and hopefully convince Husband and Wife to “split the baby” and agree on $1,500.

Benefit #1: Cost

Outcomes like this one are not unusual, largely because of the benefits of mediation. The first one is the cost savings.

In many cases, Minnesota divorce lawyers take cases to mediation before discovery is entirely complete. Discovery is usually the most expensive portion of a divorce trial. The shorter it is, the less money the parties spend on attorneys’ fees and other costs.

Furthermore, mediation means no witnesses to prepare, no evidence to refute, and only limited oral arguments. So, mediation requires much less preparation time for Minnesota divorce lawyers than a two or three-day trial.

The cost savings are not just financial. Most divorces are highly disruptive, to say the least. It is very difficult to focus at work when the divorce is in the background. Moreover, many litigants must take time away from friends and family to do divorce-related homework. Successful mediation ends things sooner, so everyone can get on with life.

Benefit #2: Civility

If the divorce involves minor children, and most contested divorces fall into this category, the parents must maintain a positive relationship. They do not need to be friends, but they do need to be able to work together and co-parent.

Mediation helps build that kind of relationship. Instead of “airing their dirty laundry” at a trial for everyone to see, mediation is a private affair wherein the parties focus on the issues. Mediation is often empowering as well. Many parents reason that if they talked out their problems once they can do so again.

Benefit #3: Control

Many people have issues accepting authority. It does not sit well when it appears that a judge has dictated conditions of divorce. These individuals may continue to fight the divorce informally, by doing things like skipping support payments or keeping the children away from the other parent.

Mediation gives litigants more control over the outcome. Even if they do not like the result, the fact that they had substantial input into the process is often very comforting. There is also some evidence that mediation increases voluntary compliance. That could mean fewer trips back to court for expensive and time-consuming motions to enforce.

Call Today To Speak With A Minnesota Divorce Lawyer From Carlson & Jones

Alternative dispute resolution is usually a part of divorce cases. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Minnesota, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.

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