Minneapolis, MN family law attorney Nancy Zalusky Berg talks about the difficulty of getting spousal maintenance these days.
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Well, that’s indeterminable. Spousal support is, in Minnesota, called spousal maintenance. Some people call it alimony. The interesting thing about spousal support is that it comes out of the ecclesiastical church and it was intended to be a penalty for a man straying for the marriage. Moving on now several hundred years, we don’t really know what it’s for anymore. Is it a penalty to be paid, or is it intended to try to even the playing field as the parties are separating?
It’s very, very difficult to get it these days. It used to be you would get spousal maintenance easily, but we don’t have any dependent moms anymore, and so every judge – a lot of the judges went to law school, worked fulltime, and had their kids. They’re not very sympathetic to somebody coming in as a dependent spouse and saying, “I can’t work.” The attitude is everybody can work.
Now, what makes that kind of unfair is if you’re 60 years old, you’re expected to get a job, you’re not gonna be able to earn hardly anything. That’s just not fair. So, how long? You can pay it permanently, which means until death or remarriage. It can be time-limited, typically called rehabilitative maintenance. But if it’s time-limited, the recipient can still go into court right before that time limitation ends and say, “Oh jeez, I still need it, so could you please extend the term.”
And that feels very unfair to the person paying because they thought they had a deal. The only way you have a concrete deal is if you enter into what’s called a Karon waiver – K-A-R-O-N. It’s the name of a famous case in which the parties were each represented by counsel and negotiated an agreement for spousal maintenance which included depriving the court of the jurisdiction to modify it. At different times, the Karon waiver has been a lifesaver in getting some of these cases settled.
But then you think about what happened in 2008 when the market crashed, and people had entered into Karon waivers and still had to pay them regardless. So, the notion that you can modify spousal maintenance, you can modify it if you’ve lost your job and go in and ask to be forgiven, you can modify it if you think that your spouse – if you suddenly develop – you’re a recipient of spousal maintenance and you suddenly develop a life-threatening disease and you need more resources to help pay for care.
There’s all kinds of reasons why one might modify it. But it’s becoming tougher and tougher to get in Minnesota, and there’s nationally a movement across the country to try and make spousal maintenance much more difficult to obtain.