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The topic of spousal maintenance is usually scary for most divorcing spouses. Our attorneys understand this and are ready to help make this process easier.
From Alexandra’s interview for the Masters of Family Law series on ReelLawyers.com
Spousal maintenance is the scariest, most difficult part of Minnesota divorce law for divorcing spouses. One spouse is fearful they won’t have enough money each month to cover all of their reasonable needs. The other spouse is also fearful that after taxes and spousal maintenance, they won’t have enough to live on. The fear is amplified by concerns about the marital standard of living, health, retirement, and future employability. And the fear can become terror when it is realized that Minnesota doesn’t have a formula or calculator (like it does for child support) to determine the monthly amount or duration of time of spousal maintenance.
Yet spousal maintenance doesn’t need to be scary. The attorneys of Atticus Family Law have decades of experience with such vexing divorce issues as spousal maintenance. Time and time again, we have successfully positioned our clients using facts to secure the spousal maintenance amounts and duration that our clients need to thrive in the years to come, but also we have achieved this through artfully negotiating divorce agreements that saved clients thousands of dollars in trial fees. Your divorce doesn’t need to be a horror movie – the attorneys and staff of Atticus Family Law work every day to rewrite the endings so our clients can be in control.
Either spouse can ask for spousal maintenance, but the court will not award spousal maintenance unless a spouse proves they need it. A maintenance award is based on the length of the marriage, the standard of living that was established during the marriage, custody and child support of the parties’ children, and the level of support needed.
To determine if spousal maintenance is appropriate in your case, several factors about your current and future circumstances will be assessed. Can both parties provide for their own needs? Can the would-be payer afford their own needs while also paying maintenance? Is the would-be recipient capable of providing for their own needs, even if they are presently unemployed or under-employed? The questions involved in this issue require a great deal of analysis as this issue is hard-fought in every divorce.
Spousal maintenance may be granted for several reasons. These include disability or illness or not having worked outside the home for a number of years. If there is a large difference between your income and that of your spouse, you may be in need of spousal maintenance.
In some cases, the court may order temporary spousal maintenance for a limited time while the spouse returns to school, retrains in a new career, becomes re-qualified to return to their prior work, or re-enters the workforce after a period of unemployment.
Temporary spousal maintenance is often awarded as a part of a plan for the receiving spouse to re-train in a new career, become qualified to return to prior work, or to re-enter the workforce after a period of unemployment. Temporary maintenance, as its name suggests, is awarded for a set period of time as a means of easing a significant life transition.
In some situations, permanent maintenance is paid until the receiving spouse either remarries, cohabitates, or dies. While there is no initial time period set for permanent maintenance, the amount or duration of these payments may be modified if new circumstances, such as a serious injury, retirement, or loss of employment, arise that affect the parties’ income and financial status. In addition, a divorce order may permit for the modification of spousal maintenance.
Your attorney should take any and all reasonable steps to reach the most favorable agreement for you in every aspect of your divorce, and spousal maintenance is certainly no exception. In preparing clients’ spousal maintenance claims, we carefully identify the monthly expenses and needs of both parties, along with their incomes and earning capacities. If we believe that one party is under-employed or capable of an income greater than what they are claiming, we require them to submit to a vocational assessment so that an expert may attest to their earning capacity in our local labor market.
Mediation is frequently utilized as a means of resolving spousal maintenance disputes. The same arguments that will serve the clients in presenting their claims to a judge at trial can be used in mediation to encourage an agreement. The goal, in court or mediation, is to secure spousal maintenance terms that best serve the client and their family.
We are committed to caring for our clients as a whole person, not a case number, and our commitment continues long after your divorce has been completed. For clients who need assistance in collecting their child support, spousal support, and divorce property, Atticus Family Law provides comprehensive guidance and great service. We work with our clients to understand the debt owed to them and the basis of their claims. By fully understanding our clients and their needs, we can prepare a strategy to maximize recovery in a speedy time frame.
In most circumstances, we start with gentle tactics and increase pressure. This method helps preserve the relationships that our clients have with their debtors, who are often ex-spouses and the parents of shared children. Many times, support payments get paid just by demonstrating to debtors you mean business by retaining a law firm. But if a debtor refuses to uphold their responsibilities, we can utilize bank levies, wage garnishments, seizure of assets, and contempt of court proceedings.
Spousal maintenance claims are, head and shoulders above all other divorce issues, the most difficult to pursue and to defend. Choosing the right divorce attorney to press your claim or defend against your spouse’s claim can make all the difference in your case.
At Atticus Family Law, we exclusively focus on family law, including divorce and spousal maintenance cases, allowing us to continually build our knowledge and experience in this field. We do what we do because we understand how deeply these cases impact our clients’ lives, and we truly enjoy getting to help clients in need to improve their lives. To schedule a consultation, complete the online contact form or call our office today.
A few years ago, I represented a client, Maria*, in her successful divorce claim for spousal maintenance. Maria and Carson had been married for 20 years, having relied most of that time on his primary income as an architect. Maria had taken a sales job in recent years and had demonstrated herself as quite skilled in that competitive industry. Nonetheless, she was solely dependent upon commissions for her income.
The divorce had ended badly. Carson had moved out for several months under the guise of visiting his mother in Texas (while working remotely). However, when he came back, Maria had reason to not let him in the house. It went downhill from there.
Some people think that addressing divorces without custody disputes are easier. However, if there’s a significant imbalance amongst their incomes, as there was here, they often times reveal themselves to be just as complicated.
First of all, Maria couldn’t afford to pay all of the bills without his financial assistance. Secondly, even if she were able to reduce her overhead so that she could pay for everything, Maria shouldn’t have to: She had spent years supporting the development of Carson’s career and ability to demand larger incomes; Maria did this to the sacrifice of developing a career of her own. Under Minnesota law, my client could be said to have contributed to the overall ability of their marriage to earn the greater income seen in their last 3-4 years’ tax returns.
We worked with Carson’s attorney and him to exchange all relevant financial documentation. More importantly, we dug down into Maria’s pay stubs, her commission reports, and her bank statements so that we could comprehensively articulate exactly what her historic income had been and what it could arguably be in the future. We were ready for the negotiation at mediation. We also had a plan for her future. Maria knew what kind of life she wanted. We knew what kind of home she wanted to move into. We knew what spousal maintenance she was shooting for and we also knew what her bottom line was.
At mediation, Maria and I were in one room and Carson and his attorney was in another — the mediator went back and forth. Every time the mediator was in the other room, he spent 15-20 minutes there. During that time Maria and I were comparing notes against our game plan. We had an estimate each time as to how much money per month (and the total number of months) Carson was going to respond with. The mediator would come back into our room, give us Carson’s counter (which was remarkably comparable to what we had projected) and we were able to send him back after spending merely 3-5 minutes with us. Within 75 minutes we reached an agreement on spousal maintenance, one where Maria got more than her “I’ll be happy if I can get X” amount and one that gave her post-divorce support until she retired.
There is no formula for spousal maintenance. It is as much art as science. The statute merely provides factors to be taken into account. When there isn’t a legal code or a formula under law, how an issue gets negotiated is likely to be the difference between a good and a bad outcome.
If an attorney doesn’t have a clear plan as to what they’re doing and how they’re going to accomplish their clients’ goals, they’re not to be reached. This is what we love to do for our clients. We love to take all the facts, organize them with a clear strategy, with clear contingencies so that no matter where the argument goes, we’re ready for the next step so we can secure an agreement to lock in the successful accomplishment of our clients’ goals.
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