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Spousal maintenance: focus on Minnesota's cohabitation law, Part 2

"[D]ashed on the rocks of reality."

Those are the words that a divorce commentator in a media piece recently used to describe the likely-to-be thwarted expectations of some Minnesotans regarding post-divorce modifications to judicial orders mandating alimony payments to ex-spouses.

We noted in a recent blog post a law passed in the state (which took legal effect on August 1) that now grants state judges the discretion to adjust spousal maintenance payments made to former spouses who are currently cohabitating with new partners who contribute to expenses.

The above-cited writer states that there could be "unintended consequences" in the new enactment.

Here's one: Although core lobbyists for the legislation were alimony-paying males, men, too, receive alimony in Minnesota, with former women partners paying spousal maintenance. A court order terminating payments could deprive a male of income just as easily as it could a female recipient.

Here's another: In any given case, a judge might need to assess many thorny considerations. A high number of cases could end up being litigated, which the writer notes would further tax an already overburdened court system.

And there is inconsistency, to wit: Although the new law makes an unmarried partner's income a matter of judicial relevancy, another law bars judges from examining the financial circumstances of either party's spouse in any support adjustment request.

And, ironically, a request for adjustment could be dashed by a former spouse's cohabitating relationship ending as the result of court intrusion, subpoenas demanding financial documents from his or her partner and related stresses. The commentator points out that such a result "would negate the ability of the ex-spouse paying maintenance to curtail the payments, contrary to the main objective of the statute."

And, finally, there is the reality, too, that many maintenance amounts were determined during divorce negotiations as part of a comprehensive settlement. Perhaps the payee sacrificed greatly in some areas in order to receive a higher spousal maintenance award. Termination of maintenance owing to cohabitation could yield an unjust result.

The new law might bring about challenges and outcomes "not foreseen by the legislators who enacted the measure," notes the commentator.

Time will tell. Regardless of the potential challenges and unforeseen outcomes, the law nonetheless gives hope to many by providing a new avenue for modification and termination of spousal maintenance. While the statute may be new, experienced family law practitioners such as those at Mack & Santana Law Offices, P.C., are skilled at testing the bounds of ever-changing family law statutes and can help the spousal maintenance obligor determine if this statute will work for him or her.

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