Cohabitation Effects of Spousal Maintenance in Minnesota

Minnesota law, under Minn. Stat. § 518.522, Subd. 6, allows a spousal maintenance award to be modified if the party receiving maintenance or alimony (also known as the obligee), moves in with a significant other. Typically, spousal maintenance terminates upon the remarriage or death of the obligee, but now it may also be modified or even terminated upon the obligee’s cohabitation.

Cohabitation is an arrangement where two people who are not married live together. Often, this involves a romantic or intimate relationship on a long-term or permanent basis. In some cases, this can impact spousal maintenance. Effective August 1, 2016 Minnesota enacted a new subdivision to the statute under which spousal maintenance can be modified, reserved, suspended, or terminated based on a maintenance recipient’s cohabitation.

The Minnesota Cohabitation Statue

In determining if maintenance should be modified due to cohabitation, under Minn. Stat. § 518.552, Subd. 6, the court shall consider 4 things:
(1) whether the obligee would marry the cohabitant but for the maintenance award;
(2) the economic benefit the obligee derives from the cohabitation;
(3) the length of the cohabitation and the likely future duration of the cohabitation; and
(4) the economic impact on the obligee if maintenance is modified and the cohabitation ends.

However, a motion to modify may not be brought within one year of the date of entry of the decree of dissolution or legal separation that orders spousal maintenance, unless the parties have agreed in writing that a motion may be brought or the court finds that failing to allow the motion to proceed would create an extreme hardship for one of the parties.

An Overview of Cohabitation in Minnesota

The statute itself does not define cohabitation, but both a shared residence and a romantic relationship are necessary for showing cohabitation. Even if you are able to establish cohabitation, the moving party’s motion may be denied without a more careful, factor-by-factor evaluation of the request, if any other elements are missing. First, you must show that cohabitation exists. Then, you must look at the prerequisites for bringing a motion. After these prerequisites have been met, you shall look at the statutory factors to be balanced. Lastly, the weighing of appropriate relief: reduction, suspension, reservation, or termination.

Minnesota Court of Appeals Cases that Address Cohabitation

In Helms v. Helms, a 2017 unpublished Minnesota Court of Appeals case, the Court held that the denial of the motion to modify spousal maintenance was affirmed because there was no evidence that the wife’s cohabitation benefitted her financially and her monthly income decreased due to a disabling injury. Although the husband’s monthly expenses increased, so did his income and he was able to meet his monthly expenses including his maintenance obligation, resulting in no change in circumstances. The district court did not err by failing to analyze the circumstances under the factors of Minn. Stat. § 518.552 because this argument was forfeited by husband before the district court.

Rhyan v. Rhyan, another unpublished Minnesota Court of Appeals case from 2017, in which the Court held that credible evidence did not support a change of circumstances based on cohabitation because the record evidence was conflicting about the nature of the relationship of the wife and the cohabitant; the husband claimed the two were in a long term relationship, while the wife claimed they were roommates with separate lives. Additionally, a change in the wife’s monthly income was not sufficient to support a change in circumstances as a ground for modification of the husband’s spousal maintenance obligation because although wife’s earnings had more than doubled since the dissolution, her current income was less than the imputed amount at the time of the decree.

The obligor must also prove that based on the cohabitation the terms of the maintenance award are not fair.

While it is possible for cohabitation to have an effect on spousal maintenance, you must look at all circumstances and the terms of your divorce decree.

At Lake Harriet Law, we work diligently for our clients, to help them receive the best terms in their divorce, including a fair and equitable financial settlement. If you are considering a divorce, contact our team to begin designing a legal strategy to protect your future.

Randall A. Smith – Managing Attorney             612-750-4843

Jessica Dulz – Student Attorney                          612-223-8925

Aubry Fritsch – Student Attorney                       612-223-8925

Taylor Blatchford – Law Clerk                             612-223-8925

Published On: April 1, 2019Categories: Family Law Updates

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