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Minnesota’s “New” Cohabitation Law

On Behalf of | Aug 23, 2016 | Family Law |

Minnesota’s spousal maintenance statute has just changed adding a potential new set of elements to allow a former spouse to modify a previously ordered spousal maintenance (alimony) award. The idea for the new language and changes derives from a 1979 Minnesota Supreme Court decision, and addresses a common issue arises in spousal maintenance calculation: Many recipients of spousal maintenance cohabitate with significant others and avoid marriage, effectively keeping their household income at a lower rate in order to receive a higher amount in maintenance from an ex-spouse after dissolution. For over 37 years, Minnesota case law has adopted the idea that “a meretricious relationship between a divorced spouse and another may be grounds for reducing or terminating alimony ‘in so far as it might improve an ex-spouse’s economic well-being.’” Abbott v. Abbott 282 N.W.2d 561, 564 (Minn. 1979). What does that mean? Basically if you are living together like a married couple, with the exception of actually being married, that could be grounds to modify the spousal support award.

As of August 1, 2016, a new subdivision has been added to Minnesota’s spousal maintenance statute solidifying this idea as statutory. Minn. Stat. § 518.552 Subd. 6 permits the obligor of spousal maintenance to pursue a modification of the monthly amount “based on the cohabitation by the maintenance obligee with another adult following the dissolution of the marriage.” Minn. Stat. § 518.522 Subd. 6. The modification may include:

    1. A Reduction;
    2. A Suspension;
    3. A Reservation; or
    4. Termination

Minn. Stat. 518.552 Subd. 6 (a). In determining whether a modification of spousal maintenance is necessary based on cohabitation of the obligee, the court will consider:

  1. “whether the obligee would marry the cohabitant but for the maintenance award;
  2. the economic benefit the oblige derives from the cohabitation;
  3. the length of the cohabitation and the likely future duration of the cohabitation; and
  4. the economic impact on the obligee if maintenance is modified and the cohabitation ends.”

Minn. Stat. 518.552 Subd. 6 (a)(1)-(4). However, there are some pitfalls to applying these factors:

  • “The court must not modify a maintenance award based solely on cohabitation if a marriage between the obligee and the cohabitant would be prohibited,” which in other words, means that the cohabitant is a family member. Minn. Stat. 518.552 Subd. 6 (b);
  • “A modification under this subdivision must be precluded or limited to the extent the parties have entered into a private agreement,” which is usually described as when the parties agree to a Karon waiver under Minn. Stat. 518.552 Subd. 5; and lastly
  • A motion to modify a spousal maintenance award on the basis of cohabitation may not:
    • be brought within one year of the date of entry of the decree of dissolution or legal separation that orders spousal maintenance; unless
    • the parties have agreed in writing that a motion may be brought; or
    • the court finds a failing to allow the motion to proceed would create an extreme hardship for one of the parties.

Minn. Stat. 518.552 Subd. 6 (b)-(c). Notwithstanding these limitations, if you or someone you know that may have a spousal maintenance award that is eligible for modification under Minnesota’s not-so new cohabitation law, please give us a call at 952-314-4189, and one of our experienced attorney’s will be able to assist you.