I have a friend who has first-hand experience with divorce, spousal maintenance, and how the issue of spousal maintenance is determined as part of a divorce process. In the wake of his own experience, he questions the wisdom of having no spousal maintenance guidelines in Minnesota’s family law statutes.
Many states have spousal maintenance guidelines or have pending legislation for the same, including Massachusetts, Kansas, Texas, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin and Oregon. The advantage of guidelines is the greater certainty of basing the amount of spousal maintenance on a percentage of the difference in parties’ incomes, and basing duration on the length of the marriage.
A standard spousal maintenance formula would be similar to how child support is calculated under current Minnesota law. The current method of determining spousal maintenance allows such a wide variation depending on the opinion of the assigned family court judge and the negotiating skills of the parties and/or attorneys involved. Having a standard formula sets realistic expectations for spousal maintenance recipients and reduces the amount of litigation required to bring a divorce case to resolution.
One other related issue is the alimony recipient’s cohabitation with another adult. Under Minnesota law, spousal maintenance typically ends when the alimony recipient remarries, but not when the alimony recipient lives with someone else but does not marry them.
Oftentimes, family law legislation favors certain constituents, and disfavors others. For example, if there were legislation that eliminated spousal maintenance, it would favor litigants who face the possibility of paying spousal maintenance, and disfavor potential recipients. However, spousal maintenance guidelines would provide benefits to essentially all litigants, regardless of whether they stand to pay or to receive spousal maintenance.