Family Law | Understanding the alimony reform

Divorcing couples may agree to a permanent alimony that ends after death or remarriage of the recipient, but the rise in cohabitation necessitates a reform.

Recently, Minnesota has undergone an alimony reform. There are four main kinds of spousal maintenance that a person can get in the state-lump sum, non-modifiable, permanent and temporary. The reform gives former spouses a way to change a permanent spousal maintenance payment under special circumstances.

Alimony in the past

According to The Star Tribune's brief history of alimony in the country, it started out as a way to ensure stay-at-home mothers and their offspring did not fall into poverty after a divorce was finalized. Most women in the 50s and 60s had no career to fall back on if their husband left them. A permanent agreement was necessary for those women who dedicated their lives to homemaking. However, as more women entered the workforce, the need for permanent spousal maintenance plummeted.

Only about 15 percent of couples going through a divorce see alimony payments as an issue. Where spousal maintenance is an issue, most divorces end with some type of temporary spousal maintenance. Even though an award of permanent alimony is less popular today, it does still exist.

Permanent spousal maintenance does not end until one of the spouses dies, the recipient of the payment gets remarried, or further order of the court. In some cases, a permanent agreement may be necessary. For example, if one of the parties is disabled or has severe medical issues, receiving permanent alimony may be the only way he or she can survive alone.

Cohabitation problems

This permanence can be an issue, as the story from CBS Minnesota shows. After 20 years of marriage, a judge mandated that a man pay his ex-wife a permanent alimony. Even after the man's former spouse became engaged, moved in with her fiancé and sold the marital home, he was still obligated to pay over $5,000 a month. He was practically supporting another household through these payments.

The problem with the permanent spousal maintenance was that some parties were taking advantage of the situation and choosing not to get married. By simply moving in with their significant other, they were still able to receive alimony every month. When the laws were originally written, cohabitation was not common, but today it provides a loophole for recipients of alimony.

Updated terms

With the new alimony reform, cohabitation has gone under the microscope. The Star Tribune states that the reform gives parties the chance to modify their spousal maintenance agreement if the recipient is clearly sharing both life and home with a new significant other. However, these modifications cannot be sought right away. A year after the divorce has been finalized, someone paying alimony can go to a judge to seek termination, reduction or suspension of alimony.

The benefit of these changes is obvious, but it still gives the recipient a chance to keep the alimony if needed. By taking the issue in front of a judge, both parties are able to plead their case.

Thanks to the alimony reform, Minneapolis residents who are currently paying a permanent alimony may have an end in sight. A knowledgeable attorney may be able to help make the characteristics of the reform clear.