Spousal Maintenance & AlimonyIt’s all about income.

There is no formula for determination of Minnesota spousal maintenance.  Therefore, it can be hard to determine just exactly what a spousal maintenance award should be.  In my opinion, this creates confusion and only invites a chance for people and lawyers to argue about money.  Ultimately, it is left to a judges’ discretion to determine a “just” spousal maintenance award.

Calculating Minnesota Spousal Maintenance

In Minnesota, any form of income can be used to calculate spousal maintenance.

This includes any income received from employers, pursuant to an independent contract for employment, dividents, interest, rents, royalties, pensions, annuities, workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, disability payments, military payments, etc.  As you can see, the courts are going to very closely at any kind of income.

Pension income is not income that will be considered in a spousal maintenance award unless the person who is to receive the pension benefits.  Therefore, just because somone has a pension does not mean it will be used as “income” to calculate spousal maintenance.  Instead, the only time the pension could be used is if the person has the actual right to receive the pension money right now and not some time in the future.

Spousal maintenance can be awarded from future income or earnings of one spouse for the support and maintenance of the other.  Pension benefits which accrued prior to the marriage are not a payment from future income and cannot be used for determing an person’s income.

Additionally, earning capacity can be considered in a Minnesota spousal maintenance award.  Therefore, if a person could earn more money but they are not currently doing so, the court can still use the money that the person could have earned in determining income for purposes of a spousal maintenance award.

When reviewing the income of self-employed people, lawyers need to consider a deduction from the gross income of the self-employed individual for those incurred to produce an income.  Much like filing taxes, you are only taxed on the profit of the business (for the most part) and not losses.  Therefore, when calculating spousal maintenance in Minnesota, the court should use only the actual gross income and not the revenue from the business earnings.

Don’t like the spousal maintenance order?

In Minnesota, the standard of review for decisions made by a district court in regard to a spousal maintenance award is the “clearly erroneous” standard.

According to the United States Supreme Court, the “clearly erroneous” standard is defined as being:

. . . significantly deferential, requiring a ‘definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.’

Concrete v. Const. Laborers, 113 S.Ct. 2264, 80 (1993).

Therefore, if you are not satisfied with a spousal maintenance decision by a judge, you will have to prove to a court of appeals that they should not give significant deference to the district court because a clear mistake has been committed.

What does that mean in lawyman’s terms?

Basically, it is difficult to prove that a district court judge’s opinion was wrong as it relates to spousal maintenance.  The district court is given great deference and you need to be aware of that.  Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you have a good lawyer arguing on your behalf when the initial spousal maintenance determination is made.


-This post was written by Joseph M. Flanders, and lawyer in Apple Valley MN.  He can be reached at 612-424-0398.