In Minnesota, parents who get a divorce and have minor children are required to put custody and child support plans in their final divorce papers (known as a divorce decree). Generally, this means that one parent will have to pay the other parent child support. Sometimes, the court will also order one spouse to make payments for the benefit of the other spouse. These payments are called spousal maintenance.
Both child support and spousal maintenance are based on income. However, because income can fluctuate over time, this can raise questions about whether these payments should change, too.
For example, if you’re the spouse receiving support payments, what happens if your spouse gets a big raise? Do you have the right to more child support or spousal maintenance?
On the other hand, if you’re the spouse making support payments, what happens if your income drops significantly? Are you stuck making payments you can’t afford?
In both cases, you may want to request a change to your child support or alimony. Either party can start the modification process. If the court agrees, the change will affect all future payments.
Even though it is possible to make a retroactive modification (where the new amount is applied to payments that have already been made), Minnesota law is strict about how far back the court can go. That’s why it’s critical to seek legal assistance as soon as possible if you want to make changes to your child support or spousal maintenance.
An overview of initial child support and spousal maintenance awards
Child support ensures that divorced parents more equitably share the responsibility of supporting and providing for their child(ren).
Spousal maintenance, or alimony, is less common than child support and is only awarded in specific situations, such as when one spouse is unable to independently meet their reasonable financial needs. For example, if one spouse stayed home to care for the children while the other worked, they may be granted spousal maintenance as they have less work experience and training. Unlike child support, the amount of spousal maintenance awarded is not determined by a formula. Therefore, the judge determines the award amount and duration.
In your divorce decree, which is the final judgment of your divorce, you'll learn how much child and spousal support you must pay, if any.
To receive spousal maintenance, you must prove:
- you lack sufficient property to provide for your reasonable needs, or
- you can’t support yourself through working, or you have physical custody of a child who prevents you from getting work outside the home.
The court will examine the following factors to decide the amount and duration of spousal maintenance:
- How long you were married (generally, a marriage of less than five years does not result in spousal maintenance, while a marriage of 25 or more years will result in an award of “permanent” alimony, if applicable)
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- Income and living expenses of you and your spouse
- Your age and the age of your spouse (if you’re in your early 40s or younger, the court will usually expect you to obtain employment and become self-supporting)
- Any property that was divided between you in the divorce
- Your education and employability (if you are the spouse seeking maintenance), including any disability status affecting employability
- Each spouse’s contributions to the marital estate.
How are child support and spousal maintenance calculated?
To calculate each parent’s child support obligation, Minnesota law uses a formula based largely on gross income. A court will also consider the custody arrangement to determine child support.
There is no formula for calculating spousal maintenance, on the other hand. Instead, the amount depends on the length of the marriage, each spouse's income, each spouse's ability to make money, and the standard of living set during the marriage.
When can spousal maintenance and child support be modified?
The most common reason for modification of child support or spousal maintenance is a significant change in the financial situation of either spouse — a sudden promotion, unemployment, or other change to income. The key is that the change in circumstances must render the previous award amount unfair in some way.
Other situations under which child support could be modified are:
- major changes in a child’s medical expenses, or in the availability of adequate health care coverage
- major changes in education-related expenses for a child
- changes in either party’s cost of living
- receipt by either party of certain forms of public assistance
- if your spouse committed fraud, misconduct, or misrepresentation, such as intentionally hiding assets
- if either spouse goes through a major life, health, or relationship change, such as remarriage or retirement
- emancipation of a child under state law.
Modifying Minnesota child support and spousal maintenance
Minnesota courts can adjust child support or spousal maintenance if certain conditions change. However, it can be challenging to change child support or spousal maintenance, so if you are not satisfied with your initial award, do not accept it.
If you are seeking a modification, you must prove that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that necessitates the change. You must offer proof that shows the modification is needed.
Upon proper legal notice, spousal maintenance is also automatically subject to modification without a motion once every two years, based on increases in the cost of living.
Can alimony and child support be permanent?
Even "permanent" spousal or child support can be changed, terminated, suspended, or prolonged if circumstances change.
If you want to legally prevent your spousal maintenance from future modifications, both parties must agree to a Karon waiver. Named after a 1988 court case, Karon v. Karon, this waiver limits the court's authority to modify the amount and/or duration of spousal maintenance, even if financial circumstances change.
Retroactive modification of support and maintenance
If your court approves your child support or alimony modification, all future payments will change. However, because a case can stretch out for some time after the need for modification arises, you may be wondering if you can retroactively modify support or maintenance obligations.
In this case, a court order for modification can be backdated, but only to the date of service of the motion to modify. An earlier date is only possible if both parties agree.
If you’re seeking a modification of your child support or spousal maintenance, you should speak with a lawyer to make sure your case is as strong as it can be. Spousal support can be one of the most contentious issues to resolve during a divorce, and the impact of a spousal maintenance award can have a lifelong impact. Whether you are seeking spousal support in a divorce or would like to learn more about modifying an existing order, you are in the right place. At Sheridan, Dulas & Hunstad, P.A., we will sit down with you, talk about your situation, and help you chart the best path forward.