Most people know that spousal maintenance starts following a divorce, but when does it end? In Minnesota, most spousal maintenance awards are established for a term of years, and a spouse’s obligation to pay spousal maintenance ends when that term of years expires. (For a brief explanation regarding the basics of spousal maintenance laws in Minnesota, see: https://www.minneapolisdivorceattorneys.us/spousal-maintenance-why-how-much-and-for-how-long/). A party’s spousal maintenance obligation is also terminated upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the party receiving maintenance (the “payee spouse”) under Minnesota Statute 518A.39, Subd. 3. While this statute provides for a termination of support upon the payee spouse’s remarriage, until very recently, nothing in the law provided for a termination of spousal maintenance when a payee spouse began living with a new significant other (otherwise known as “cohabitation”). This apparent gap in the law has led to the phenomenon of what some family law attorneys refer to as the “seven-year engagement.” Under this phenomenon, and in order to take advantage of this apparent loophole in the law, a payee spouse might move in with and even be engaged to a new person; however, he or she might intentionally delay remarriage in order to continue receiving spousal maintenance from his or her ex-spouse until after the payor spouse’s spousal maintenance obligation has ended.
Last week, Governor Dayton approved legislation that attempts to address this circumstance. HF1333 was signed into law on May 19, 2016, and authorizes the court to reduce, suspend, reserve, or terminate a party’s receipt of spousal maintenance if the payee spouse cohabitates with another adult following the parties’ divorce. In deciding which (if any) of these actions to take when faced with a cohabiting payee spouse, the court must consider a number of factors, including whether the obligee would marry the cohabitant but for the maintenance award, the economic benefit the payee spouse derives from the cohabitation, the length of the cohabitation and the likely future duration of the cohabitation, and the economic impact on the payee spouse if maintenance is modified and the cohabitation ends.
So, what are the practical implications of this new law? This new statute expressly grants the court the authority to modify a spousal maintenance award based upon cohabitation of a payee spouse; however, the court already had the authority to modify spousal maintenance (in cases where the parties have not divested the court of jurisdiction pursuant to a Karon waiver) based upon changed circumstances. Even before this new law was enacted, a payor spouse could seek to modify his or her spousal maintenance obligation on the grounds that the cohabiting payee spouse’s need for maintenance had decreased because he or she was living with another person who was contributing to household expenses. Further, this new statute does not address circumstances in which parties have agreed to divest the Court of jurisdiction so that their spousal maintenance award is non-modifiable (a Karon waiver). Presumably, parties who have agreed to this divestiture of jurisdiction have no recourse under this new law. In light of these questions, it remains to be seen whether this new law will truly close the cohabitation loophole.
If you have questions or concerns regarding spousal maintenance, contact Arnold, Rodman & Kretchmer PLLC today at 952-955-8008 to schedule a consultation.
Written By: Associate Attorney, Kendal K O’Keefe