Cohabitation May Now be Grounds to Modify Spousal Maintenance

The legislature recently passed an amendment and new law to be effective August 1, 2016, to allow a court to consider Cohabitation as grounds to modify, reduce or terminate spousal maintenance. Minnesota Statute 518.552 was amended to add a subdivision 6 to allow for the reduction or termination of spousal maintenance in some limited circumstances when there is cohabitation by an ex-spouse.

Having dealt with this issue in several past cases and encountering the difficulties in successfully proving grounds to reduce maintenance when there is cohabitation by an ex-spouse, an amendment to the statute was long overdue. There have been many abuses where a party has moved in an employed new significant other and continues to receive spousal maintenance forcing an unfair situation and allowing parties to double dip or, in effect, have a former spouse subsidize a comfortable standard of living for a significant other even though that individual has the financial resources or income to contribute to household expenses.

Unfortunately the amendment is watered down and still makes it difficult to prove  up a case for reduction or termination of maintenance. There are many states that create a presumption that cohabitation leads to a rebuttable presumption that grounds have been met to terminate spousal maintenance.  In this amendment the law now provides that in determining whether spousal maintenance should be reduced, suspended or reserved the court should consider: (1) whether an obligee would marry a 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 cohabitation ends.

In my opinion the new law falls far short of what was needed and invites new speculation and continuing litigation by allowing the suspension or reservation of spousal maintenance. The key will be how courts going forward interpret the new amendment.

Due to the myriad of factors to be analyzed in a cohabitation modification case it is essential you immediately obtain an experienced divorce attorney when confronted with this issue.

Gray Divorces Are Increasing!

A recent development is that in the last several years I have represented many individuals in their fifties and even sixties who are commencing divorces after many years of marriage. Twenty years ago I rarely ever represented fifty plus aged people in divorces.

Many experts are writing about the reasons for this reality. I wish to share an interesting article from the Huffington Post:

The 5 Big Reasons Why Couples Divorce After Decades Of Marriage
Here’s what to do before it’s too late.
Mar 20, 2016
Linda Melone Next Avenue
SPECIAL FROM Next Avenue
By Linda Melone
If you or someone you know recently divorced after 20 or more years together, you’re not alone. Splitting up later in life, sometimes called “gray divorce,” is on the upswing. In 2010, one in four divorces occurred among people age 50 and above and the 50-plus set was more than twice as likely to be divorced than in 1990, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

But why do couples split up after so much time together? And how can you prevent this from happening in your marriage?

There are five big reasons why couples divorce after decades of marriage:
1. They Grow Apart
The process that leads to gray divorce isn’t typically a sudden event or trigger, says Stan Tatkin, author of Wired For Love. Rather, it often happens slowly over time. “It’s like an unbreakable plate you drop repeatedly,” he says. “The relationship develops microcracks inside the structure you can’t see. Then it finally reaches a critical mass and shatters.”

Hormonal changes that arise with age can cause significant shifts in sex drive.

— Jessica O’Reilly, author of ‘The New Sex Bible’

It’s a reason many couples that split late in life say they’ve simply grown apart. This usually comes as a shock to close friends and family, such as when Al and Tipper Gore separated in 2010 after 40 years of marriage.

An undercurrent of dissatisfaction can happen for a number of reasons, but several dominant themes crop up regularly, says Tatkin. “Often one person — usually the woman — feels she’s given up too much. She may have put aside her career as she raised the children. She feels the wear and tear of the relationship because it wasn’t collaborative.”

2. Their Age
Other times age is a factor. A big age difference that was not an issue at the beginning of a relationship may become a problem later in life, Tatkin says. Or people may hit middle-age and crave a reboot.

Tatkin explains that people go through physiological and biological “brain upgrades” at certain times in their lives, including at age 15 and again at 40. “Every time you experience one you want to go back [in time],” he says. Starting a relationship with a younger person satisfies this urge for some people.

3. They’re Bored
Steve Siebold, a psychological performance and mental toughness coach and author of 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of The World Class, cites boredom as a factor. “Being around the same person 24/7, depending on the relationship, can lead to boredom,” he says. In other cases, people stop trying. “You work hard, play hard and take care of business, but you’ve stopped being the attentive, attractive spouse. You’ve allowed yourself to become complacent.”

4. Their Money Issues
Differences in spending habits and financial difficulties may finally come to a head cause a break-up. One spouse may be a big spender while the other likes to save, Siebold says. “The kids’ activities, expenses and college funds eat the family’s discretionary cash and you’re deep in debt,” he notes.

5. Sex
Sexual incompatibility can become more pronounced, says Jessica O’Reilly, author of The New Sex Bible and Astroglide’s resident sexologist. “Hormonal changes that arise with age can cause significant shifts in sex drive. And though every couple of every age experiences differentials in desire, these can become more pronounced with age.”

Couples who may be heading down the path to divorce can take steps to pull themselves back with these five tips:

1. Put the Relationship First
You should be about protecting each other in harsh environments and have each other’s back, says Tatkin. “You must become experts for each other and protect each other in private and public — and never threaten the relationship.” In addition, Tatkin says, couples should have a strong sense of why they’re together. “Know the purpose that you serve as a couple,” he says.

2. Take Care of Yourself
Gaining weight, not exercising and dressing slovenly sends a message to your spouse that you don’t care anymore, says Siebold. “Try cutting the carbs, trimming the fat and heading to the gym,” he advises.

3. Assess Your Role in the Problem
Before you give up on your marriage, look in the mirror, says Siebold. “If there’s a boring person staring back at you, you may be the problem,” he notes.

And if that is the case, Siebold suggests making a decision to create some excitement in your life. Plan a new adventure together, start a new business, learn a language or develop a new skill together. These activities create new stories and may reignite your passion.

4. Talk About Sex
Couples who talk about their sexual expectations, changing needs and vulnerabilities can manage their differences, O’Reilly says. “Communication is essential. As your body changes you need to discuss what feels good both physically and emotionally to cultivate intimacy,” she adds.

5. Talk About Everything Else, Too
Lastly, Tatkin says you both need to tell each other everything. That’s the only way to work out your problems.

 

My experience is that a reality is that people change and often grow apart and have different interests after their children are grown and move on with their individual new lives. It appears people also often have less patience and are unwilling to live under the control of a bossy financially or emotionally controlling spouse realizing they are not going to live forever and want to pursue what they deem satisfying and rewarding. They no longer focus on the children’s needs, but their own, which now have changed.

The reality is it is important to retain an experienced divorce attorney in a grey divorce as often times your best earning years are behind you and it is important to obtain a fair and equitable property settlement and sometimes spousal maintenance to secure your financial future. Dividing pensions, retirement assets, or businesses and real estate can often be complicated. Promptly seek an experienced divorce attorney if you find yourself in this now common scenario.

Jeff from Arrigoni Law has 33 years experience as an attorney and has been practicing exclusively in family law, divorce, and mediation for over 27 years and will work hard to protect your rights and secure an equitable fair settlement.

Significant Other’s Can Impact Custody Decisions

In an unpublished opinion in Newman vs. Newman, A15-0561 (Minn.Ct. App. Dec.21, 2015) the court of appeals reviewed an appeal from a divorce involving a 16 year marriage involving three minor children with a mother who had been a full-time homemaker since 2003 and a father who recently retired early. The trial court granted joint legal custody, but granted the father sole physical custody.

Mother appealed and claimed the trial court erred in not granting her joint physical custody or sole physical custody.  The appellate court noted there had been acrimony and a lot of personal attacks in the case and that a current harassment restraining order precluded father from harassing the mother. It was noted this conflict did not support their ability to cooperate under a joint physical custody arrangement.

The court also found that although there was not evidence of domestic abuse, the court had deep concern about the safety of the parties’ daughters around the mother’s live in boyfriend who had been convicted of felony invasion of privacy of a minor for hiding a video camera in his 17 year-old, step-daughter’s bathroom. It was specifically ordered the mother’s parenting time not include her boyfriend and that the mother’s boyfriend directing impacted the physical and emotional safety of the children.

In addressing the best interest factors the court noted nine were neutral, one inapplicable, two favored the father and one favored the mother. The deciding factor was the interaction and interrelationship of a person who may significantly affect the children’s best interests.  In this case the mother’s decision to live with a convicted felon who had harmed his step-daughter lead to her losing physical custody.

If custody is an issue in a divorce or paternity action it is crucial to immediately consult with an experienced divorce lawyer or knowledgeable family law attorney. Decisions about living arrangements, significant others, and high conflict disputes with your spouse can preclude sharing joint physical custody or even lead to a longtime homemaker to lose physical custody.

 

 

 

Preparing For Divorce

The Divorce Process has been made more civil and informal with numerous recent rule and law changes to require or strongly encourage mediation or other alternative dispute resolution and to limit time-consuming and expensive formal discovery. Often times it still will be stressful and emotionally difficult and it still can turn into prolonged litigation if your spouse is angry or determined to go down that path.

There are some steps you can take to make the process easier, less expensive and to protect yourself. A few recommendations were recently summarized in an article published in Huffpost Divorce by Lisa Helfend Meyer on February 2, 2016 titled “6 Things to Do Before Filing for Divorce.” These are the recommendations:

1. KNOW YOUR FINANCES. Make sure you try to copy or obtain access to financial records, account statements, tax returns, financial statements and any lists of assets, debts or purchase documents for real estate. At a minimum you should try to locate the last 3 years of tax returns and if necessary contact your accountant or investment advisor or investment account representative and obtain several years of records or statements. If homes or real estate has been refinanced or recently purchased you should obtain from the mortgage broker a copy of financial statements or loan applications completed and any appraisals completed in the process. This can provide a general overview of your income, debts, and assets to assist your divorce attorney to plan a strategy for the best way to proceed. If a spouse is angry it is important to obtain these records early to avoid expense to duplicate them or in some cases avoiding a spouse from losing them or worse destroying them.

2. GET YOUR AFFAIRS IN ORDER. Take care of financial transactions before the divorce starts. If you have joint credit lines or home equity lines you may want to contact the bank or mortgage company and freeze the credit line or have your named removed from joint credit cards for future charges or contact the credit card company and advise them you do agree to be liable for future charges and ask your name be removed if you are concerned about spouse going on a spending spree and damaging your credit or charging attorney fees on a joint credit card. You cannot change life insurance beneficiaries after divorce starts and generally you are restrained from liquidating assets except for necessary living expenses or for attorney fees. You may also wish to video tape or take pictures or inventory valuable personal property such as jewelry, guns, tools or equipment or consider having items informally appraised.

3. SET MONEY ASIDE. It often times is wise to have an emergency fund set aside to hire a lawyer or if possible to pay necessary living and debt expenses for 60 to 90 days or longer because a spouse can close down accounts or close out credit quickly and leave you vulnerable until mediation or court action is taken, which now can take 60 days or longer before you can schedule a temporary hearing if mediation is unsuccessful.

4. KEEP A JOURNAL. When custody or parenting time is in dispute it is important to document your involvement with the children. It often is helpful to keep a daily journal of all your involvement with the children, their activities and schooling and all communications and conversely your spouse’s lack of involvement. You want to make sure you are active at school events and conferences as well as day care selection and pick up and drop off as well as doctor or counselor appointments. Do not allow your spouse to control or limit your involvement. Do not work voluntary overtime and minimize weekend work or travel commitments.

5. AVOID SOCIAL MEDIA. Pictures, posts and internet activity is commonly being used as evidence in custody and parenting time disputes. Things you to do through social media is often discoverable and venting about your spouse on social media will be met with restraining orders, sanctions or worse. Stay away from social media for your own protection.

6. SEE A THERAPIST. A divorce can be very stressful and situational anxiety or depression can often happen. It is important to protect your emotional health and obtain help or support through a therapist , pastor or strong family network. Family  support is helpful, but they may not always give you the best advice or be able to appropriately address the feelings or problems you are experiencing. If you feel stressed, overwhelmed or depressed it is important to seek professional help.

These are important first steps, but it remains critical to promptly seek advice from a divorce lawyer or experienced divorce attorney before you take any rash action such as moving out, changing jobs or work schedules or refinancing properties, purchasing new residences or taking out joint credit lines or loans, when divorce is on the horizon. Do not agree to temporary parenting schedules, custody or temporary financial arrangements until you consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney. Temporary agreements can limit your future options or turn into permanent binding terms that may not be in your best interests.

 

Moving On After A Marriage Ends

Clinical Psychologist, Kristin Davis, has recently published a thoughtful article in the Huffington Divorce section on February 1, 2016 suggesting 5 ways to move on after a relationship ends, which is sound advice to consider after a divorce. I concur and believe the tips can help an individual transition and overcome the emotional and psychological pain that divorce often brings. These are the recommendations:

1. TAKE STOCK. As painful as it might be it is helpful to think through your take and what you learned from that relationship. Would you do things differently the next time? What struggles on both sides may have contributed to the marriage ending? Many people just want to run away and hide or escape another way through other means such as alcohol, dating, or other destructive behavior and this will only lead to more problems and potential heartaches.  Instead analyze , where do I see myself? What have I learned? What , if anything would you do differently in the next relationship? How is it best for you to move on? Some may realize there are positive things and aspects of the break-up such as freedom, optimism, empowerment and relief. Remember this is an opportunity for a fresh start and to recreate yourself and pursue dreams or things that may never have been realistic or available when married.

2. PURGE SOCIAL MEDIA. Make sure you remove your former spouse off your social media. Delete and remove picture, emails, and texts. Do not follow him or her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. If you fail to do so you will be confronted with continuing painful reminders and will lead to you being stuck in the past and not focusing on the future.

3. INDULGE AND EXPAND HORIZONS. Reconnect with family and old friends. Expand your knowledge, take a class and read some interesting books or take up a new hobby. Exercise can often help with overcoming emotional pain. Be open to things, experiences or old hobbies. Explore things you have never done.

4. DO NOT RUSH INTO A NEW RELATIONSHIP. Many professionals believe rushing into dating is not the best way to move past your last relationship. It is often wise and better to give yourself some time and space before you rush back into another relationship. Give yourself time to spend on yourself to step back, evaluate and provide an opportunity for clarity and introspection. People often fail to analyze the mistakes of the past and end up repeating things that lead to future failed relationships. Look for patterns that can help prevent future relationships mistakes.

5. ACCEPT CHANGE AND UPHEAVAL. It often is not easy to get over a divorce or the end of a relationship, but do not dwell on the past every minute of the day. Over time you will heal and the ride will become less bumpy. Your new freedom can lead to many new adventures and you have an opportunity for a new beginning. Never give up. There will be future opportunities for love and fulfillment.

I am not a mental health expert or psychologist but as a divorce lawyer with several decades of experience and after representing a few individuals in multiple divorces and experiencing and witnessing the struggles some clients have I believe these recommendations are extremely helpful to prepare for your exciting future.

Attorneys Fees in Family Law

In a divorce or family law matter it is important to factor in the cost of attorney fees and Court costs in an action when deciding how you wish to proceed. It is foolhardy to not seek legal advice in divorce or family law matters. It is wise to understand it often may be difficult and expensive to obtain a Court order directing your spouse to pay your attorneys fees in the matter.

Under the law a Court can award fees to enable a party to carry on or contest the proceedings, provided it finds:

(1) that the fees are necessary for the good faith assertion of the party’s rights in the action and will not contribute unnecessarily to the length or and expense of the proceedings;

(2) that the party from whom fees, costs, and disbursements are sought has the means to pay them; and

(3) that the party to whom fees, costs, and disbursements are awarded does not have the means to pay them. Minn. Stat.518.14.

A Court can also award fees against a party who unreasonably contributes to the length or expense of the action, or if a party commits fraud, or takes what a Court determines are bad faith actions in a case. Fees and costs can be awarded at any point in the proceeding.

Attorney fees can be obtained when there is a gross disparity in incomes or financial situations in a case, but it often can be expensive and a lengthy process to obtain an award of fees. Sometimes Courts wait until trial after they hear and consider all evidence before deciding an issue involving fees, or make a small temporary award to allow a party to contest the case, but the award often falls far short of the attorney fees required to take the matter through a time-consuming litigation process or trial. It is folly to assume you are going to be awarded every dollar of fees you are incurring, even if there is a disparity in incomes because, in general, Courts are conservative in awarding fees and do not wish to risk encouraging potentially unnecessary litigation. By granting a large temporary award of fees Courts realize this may lead to more litigation rather than a settlement. Generally Courts want matters to settle and not be litigated.  They have very busy Court calendars already and often times ugly divorce litigation is not their favorite way to spend their time.

Instead of counting on or assuming you will be awarded attorney fees the best strategy is to attempt to minimize your own fees because 90% of cases settle short of a trial and it is never easy to negotiate or convince your spouse to voluntarily pay both sides attorney fees.

First carefully review and read your Retainer Agreement with your attorney to understand how you will be billed. Generally numerous phone calls or e-mails to your attorney will lead to a large attorney fee bill quickly. Do not use your attorney as a therapist or as a way to soothe your hurt feelings as it can be very expensive. Find a good friend, or family member, or therapist to talk about your emotional feelings and disappointment. Try to streamline communications to address multiple issues in a single call or e-mail and try not to constantly barrage your attorney with piecemeal information. If possible try to amicably resolve personal property disputes with your spouse without involving your attorney as fees can escalate fast over battles about old TVs or computers or used furniture that have small real current market value.

As hurt as you may be, try to be civil and respectful to your spouse. Personal or verbal attacks may give you temporary satisfaction, but may lead to a barrage of payback attempts to get even or other strategies to punish you in a revengeful manner that will lead to much larger attorney fees for both sides. It can also lead to expensive collateral actions such as Orders for Protection, or Harassment actions, which lead to more fees.  Do not let your emotions drive your actions. Treat your divorce as a business transaction and negotiations, as hard and as cold as that sounds.

Be honest with your attorney and do not hide information or assets. The more your attorney knows the better they can quickly plan how to settle your case. Trying to hide information or assets is unwise and can be deemed fraudulent and that can lead to an attorney fee award and also discredits your credibility with the Court. This can lead to very bad results no matter how good your attorney may be. It can also lead to length discovery requests, or information requests, from your spouse’s attorney, or depositions that lead to much higher attorney fees.

When your attorney requests information or documents, timely get the documents and provide them in an organized fashion. Do not procrastinate in getting information or documents as this leads to follow-up e-mails, letters, or phone calls and more fees and expense. You can save a great deal of expense by carefully organizing the statements, by file folder or clips in order. There are far too many cases where clients bring in a grocery bag of documents accumulated over years that are a mess and take hours to organize and often are incomplete, which again leads to higher fees for a paralegal or staff to try to organize and additional frustration for you.

Keep your children out of the middle of your divorce. Do not attempt to alienate your children against the other parent. If a party feels a parent is undermining a relationship with their children this will lead to anger and hard feelings and more litigation or efforts to get even. It also will cause great emotional harm to your children.

Lastly follow your attorney’s advice. Do not believe you know better or assume you can take shortcuts without seeking the attorney’s input, in particular in negotiating important settlement details, because there may be legal reasons for negotiating a certain way. When in doubt, talk to your attorney, and always before you commit orally, or in writing to any settlement seek your attorney’s input. After you verbally agree to a settlement with your spouse it often can be very difficult to backtrack and negotiate important other matters that may have been forgotten or neglected and this leads to litigation as people get entrenched in verbal promises made along the way.

I know everyone tries to keep their costs down in a Family Law matter, but usually it is more cost effective to discuss your case and the actions that you are considering before you take action, rather than trying to undo it after the fact. It should always be the attorney’s goal to settle your case short of going to trial, which will minimize your own attorney fees because it can be very difficult, time-consuming and cost prohibitive to go through a trial and to attempt to make your spouse pay your attorney fees. Even if the Court does decide to award you attorney fees the Court may only award a small portion of the fees you incurred.

Court Reverses Trial Court Permanent Spousal Maintenance Award And Directs Rehabilitative Maintenance and Also Directs Smaller Monthly Sum

In Spolum v. D’Amato, A14-1335, A14-1720 (Minn. App. August 17, 2015)  the Court of Appeals reversed a Ramsey County  trial court decision awarding Permanent Spousal Maintenance and remanded to the trial court to recalculate Spolum’s  monthly expenses, D’Amato’s income, and to reduce the monthly maintenance award of $14,072 and further held only Rehabilitative Spousal Maintenance was appropriate.

D’Amato, an orthopedic surgeon, and Spolum, a flight attendant, were married in 2001 and had one son, born in 2003. The parties separated in July 2010.  A legal separation action was started and then the parties attempted reconciliation but continued to live separately. A divorce trial began in August 2013. At that time, Spolum was age 49 and D’Amato was age 45.

To plan for the wedding, Spolum took a leave of absence as a flight attendant and extended it after the 911 attack and returned to work 5 years later. She quit in 2006 because her commute was stressful. She is high school educated with some college and art school classes.

Spolum worked at a clothing boutique and as a yoga instructor. When the parties reconciled she opened a chocolate shop, but the business failed. Trial evidence reflected she was “brilliant and creative”.  She was interested in animal-welfare and was on the board of directors for an animal-welfare organization. Spolum desired to establish a career as an animal welfare advocate. A vocational rehabilitation evaluation was completed concluding without additional training she could work in a position earning between $10-$12 an hour, but could attend a two year vocational program.

During the marriage D’Amato was let go in a physician practice. He applied to Health Partners. He was initially rejected, but Spolum testified she invited the head of HealthPartners to their home to advocate for reconsideration and D’Amato was then hired.  D’Amato also began a second job as an independent medical-legal consultant, working approximately 20 hours a week. Near the end of 2011 D’Amato quit the second job as it was time-consuming and stressful causing him anxiety and to be unhealthy. He testified he was already working 50 hours a week at HealthPartners.

D’Amato testified his earning in 2013 would be $800,000 and that he was seeing fewer patients as they were being diverted to other doctors. The Director of HealthPartners testified there has been a decrease in patient volume and surgeries. D’Amato’s income has been decreasing since 2011 and he predicted this trend would continue. He could earn additional income based on his production, but patients were decreasing. D’Amato testified he projected his salary in 2014 to be $750,000. D’Amato proposed the court use his 2013 income of $800,000 and that he pay spousal maintenance for 4 years to allow Spolum to acquire employment and training.

In the Judgment the trial court set D’Amato’s income at $950,538 using a 3 year average and despite finding he had quit his second job to create a more balanced life. The  judge stated that in the event the court overestimated his income D’Amato was in a better position to correct the error by pursuing additional options.

The trial court found Spolum’s discretionary spending at $9,943 per month and then modified that to $8,383 based on D’Amato’s claim this was even higher than she requested. In the original decision the court ordered $18,225 per month in spousal maintenance which was subsequently amended to $14,072 after post-trial motions. Apparently the trial court made findings concerning Spolum’s earning capacity and ability to re-enter the job market, but ignored those facts in making it a permanent maintenance award. The court found she was in good physical and emotional health and found no reason why she could not pursue a successful career because she was healthy, intelligent, articulate, creative, and capable.

The court found permanent spousal maintenance was appropriate based on: (1) the high marital standard of living, (2) the length of the marriage, (3) Spolum will never be able to support herself in the manner close to the marital standard of living, and (4) the fact D’Amato’s income would not decrease. Spolum was awarded $1.2 million dollars in assets, including the Caribbean home “Seacliff” which D’Amato requested be sold and artwork of $110,000, but found the assets were not available until retirement.

The court of appeals reversed the amount and duration of the award and stated Permanent Spousal Maintenance was not warranted and that the award should be Rehabilitative. The court explained a court may award spousal maintenance (1) if a spouse lacks sufficient property, including allocated property to provide for reasonable needs considering the standard of living, or (2) is unable to provide self-support through appropriate employment, in light of the standard of living. Minn Stat. 518.552, subd.1.  In determining an award the court should evaluate (1) the financial resources of the requesting party, including marital property awarded to the party, and the party’s ability to meet needs independently, (2) time necessary to become self-supporting, (3) marital standard of living, (4) duration of marriage, (5) loss of employment benefits and opportunities foregone by requesting party, (6) age, physical condition, and emotional condition of the requesting party, (7) ability of the obligor to meet the needs of both parties, and (8) contribution of each party in the acquisition, preservation, and depreciation of marital property. Minn. Stat. 518.552, subd. 2.

The court stated the trial court put an overriding emphasis on the standard of living, which was merely one factor to be considered. The court did not agree the assets awarded to Spolum were not available until retirement. The court held the evidence and findings support an award of rehabilitative maintenance, not permanent spousal maintenance. The court noted the standard of living was over emphasized because Spolum also testified the standard of living was excessive and unnecessary and was a mistake and was based on D’Amato previously working two jobs and that it was unfair to consider a lifestyle based on income from a prior second job that contributed an average of additional income of $200,00 per year. The court also stated the parties had only lived together as husband and wife for 9 years. It noted prior to the marriage Spolum made $46,000 annually as a flight attendant. The court stated the evidence only supported a rehabilitative award.

The court also stated the trial court failed to consider Spolum’s dubious use of assets during the separation where she transferred $125,000 from the parties’ joint account and only had $40,000 left.

The  court stated the trial court’s finding of the need for discretionary spending of $8,343 per month was excessive. The court also found the trial court clearly erred in finding D’Amato’s income was $950,838 and that spousal maintenance should be based on the obligor’s income at the time of trial. The court noted it was unreasonable for a court to require D’Amato to work a second job in order to satisfy a maintenance award when Spolum is not required to work even one job.

The issue of spousal maintenance is a very difficult matter and requires careful evaluation of numerous factors and often the assistance of experts, including an experienced family law attorney. It is critical to promptly retain an experienced divorce lawyer if spousal maintenance is a potential issue.

Anti-Palimony Statute Does Not Bar Claim For One-Half Interest In Property Listed As Joint-Tenant

In Lendzyk vs.Wrazidlo, A14-1331 (Minn. App .July 13, 2015) the Minnesota Court of Appeals interpreted the Minnesota Anti-Palimony statute in an appeal involving a couple who were dating and commingled money in a new home they built. Boyfriend Lendzyk and girlfriend Wrazidlo began dating in 2006. At that time each owned a home in northern Minnesota. Girlfriend sold home and moved into boyfriend’s home with her two children. They then decided to build a home together. In 2008 girlfriend bought a lot, title to lot was recorded in her name and she financed a construction loan for the home.

After the construction was completed the parties arranged to refinance the construction loan. The loan was refinanced into joint tenancy and both parties signed a mortgage identifying them as joint tenants and girlfriend signed a quit claim deed that conveyed her interest in the property to herself  and boyfriend as joint tenants.

The relationship ended in 2010. In 2012 the boyfriend brought a partition action claiming one-half interest in the property requesting the property be sold and the proceeds be divided between the parties. Testimony was taken that since girlfriend sold her home she would initially buy the lot and pay the majority of the construction costs. After the home was built boyfriend would pay the refinancing cost and then pay for mortgage and insurance. The parties looked at and selected the lot together. Boyfriend testified that the parties agreement was to own the property together, build it together and start a family together. He was going to become more financially involved once he sold his home. Boyfriend paid $10,532 toward closing costs and made monthly mortgage payments and property insurance from 2008 to 2010, which together totaled $77,323. Girlfriend presented evidence she had put $201,171 towards purchasing the property and improvements.

Trial court found anti-palimony statute did not bar boyfriend’s claim to an interest in property and found that as joint tenants, the property should be sold and the proceeds equally divided.

On appeal the court interpreted the anti-palimony statute, Minn. Stat.  513.075, which in part provides that a contract between a man and woman living together out of wedlock is enforceable only if: (1) the contract is written and signed by the parties, and (2) enforcement is sought after termination of their relationship.  Minn. Stat. 513.076 states that unless a contract is executed complying with Minn. Stat. 513.075 a court is without jurisdiction to hear the matter and shall dismiss it as against public policy.

The court appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision citing to two other cases. In, In re Estate of Ericksen, 337 N. W. 2d 671, 674 (Minn. 1983) the supreme court held that even though cohabitants had not signed a contract detailing their financial arrangements regarding a home and it was solely titled in on party’s name, the probate court properly considered an unjust enrichment claim to a one-half interest in home where both parties equally contributed to the purchase and maintaining the home. In another case In re Palmen, 588 N.W. 2d 493 495 (Minn. 1999) two cohabitants agreed to built a log cabin together on a lot owned by Palmen.  After Palmen died cohabitant Schneider claimed an interest in log cabin stating it was agreed if their relationship ended she would be reimbursed her investment for labor and financial contributions to the log cabin’s construction. The trial court denied the claim, but the supreme court reversed holding the anti-palimony statute does not bar the enforcement of unwritten agreements between parties living together if a party can establish the agreement was supported by consideration independent of the couple living together in contemplation of sexual relations out of wedlock and that the party is seeking to protect their own property and is not seeking to claim the property of the cohabitant. The court noted under the facts in the current case the party was seeking to protect his own property and it was supported by independent consideration unrelated to the cohabitation.

Girlfriend also claimed boyfriend’s interest should not be one-half, but limited to the amount of his contributions. The court stated if a property is held as joint tenants there is a presumption of equal property interests. The court found this presumption was not overcome based on the evidence. The trial court found girlfriend’s testimony that boyfriend pressured her to put his name on deed and mortgage was not credible and that the only other evidence presented to rebut the presumption of equal ownership was that girlfriend made greater contributions to the property.  The Court upheld the trial court’s decision to equally divide the sales proceeds in light of lack of other evidence to rebut the presumption.

In any property or relationship dispute it is prudent to seek representation and advice from an experienced family law attorney.

Courts Cannot Retroactively Modify Child Support For Receipt Of Social Security Derivative Benefits Received Prior To Service Of Motion

In, In Re The Matter of Dakota County vs .Gillespie, A13-1240, (Minn. July 22, 2015) the Minnesota Supreme Court addressed, a Child Support Magistrate, District Court and Court of Appeals decisions that granted in part retroactive modification in child support and credit for prior derivative social security paid to the mother commencing in 2012 due to the father retiring due to a disability and him receiving social security disability benefits. At that time mom began receiving a derivative social security benefit for the children in the sum of $1,748 a month, while the father was ordered to pay $1,872 a month. Father sought a reduction because of his reduced income in retirement and the derivative benefits received by mom. Mom moved for an upward departure.

The child support magistrate granted father’s motion ,in part, offsetting the child support obligation by the derivative benefit amount reducing child support to $229 a month and also gave a partial credit for the social security benefits from the time they commenced. The magistrate stated this credit was not a retroactive modification. The magistrate relied on a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision Cty. of Grant v. Koser, 809 N.W. 2d 237, 244 ( Minn. App. 2012), which stated the child support statute did not specify the manner a court must subtract social security benefits from a support obligation, and does not limit applying a credit to either arrears or a current support obligation. The district court and subsequently the Court of Appeals affirmed the majority of the magistrate’s decision.

The Supreme Court accepted review and reversed finding a careful reading of all child support statutes 518A together reflect it is error to grant credit for derivative social security benefits received by the mother prior to when father serves notice of motion to modify. The court stated the court of appeals and the decision in Koser misinterpreted the child  support statutes. The court noted since the statute relative to derivative social security benefits did not expressly provide a post-order mechanism to account for when the benefits commenced, it stands to reason the modification and recalculation is governed by the general modification statute, which precludes retroactive modification prior to service of the motion.

Denial of Spousal Maintenance Not Abuse of Discretion In Considering Investment Income From Property Settlement Sufficient To Meet Monthly Needs

In Curtis v. Curtis, A14-1841, (Minn. Ct. App. June 22, 2015) the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court decision to deny a wife’ request for spousal maintenance, based on imputed income from the reallocation of a property settlement from growth investments to income investments based on an  expert who testified wife could earn 7 percent on her investments if she allocated them from growth funds to income funds. The expert testimony was not rebutted at trial. The court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion by considering the reallocated investment strategy  and that the investment income was sufficient to meet wife’s monthly needs. The court noted that the reallocation of investments in the property division was not an invasion of assets or improper in light of the expert testimony to support the determinations.

In Curtis the court was faced with a couple who was married in 1990 and separated in 2012 or 2013. Husband worked as a dentist and managed the parties investments. They had two children one was now an adult and a 16 year old son. Wife was awarded the house and investments totaling $2,209,399 or 57 % of the marital estate , while husband received 43% of the estate.  Based on expert testimony the trial court determined wife could reallocate growth funds to income producing funds and meet her reasonable monthly expenses. It was noted the spousal maintenance statute, Minn. Stat. 518.552, subd. 2(a) requires a court to consider financial resources, which include income generated by liquid assets citing to Fink v. Fink, 366 N. W. 2d 340, 342 (Minn. Ct. App. 1985).

The court stated the trial court’s decision did not invade her property award to meet her expenses and was not an abuse of discretion. A dissenting Judge noted the tax consequences of reallocating the assets would be significant and was not considered.The court, however, found the trial court was within its discretion not to consider the tax consequences citing to Maurer v. Maurer, 623 N. W. 2d 604, 608 (Minn. 2001), which found that whether to consider the tax consequences of a property division lies within the trial court’s discretion.

This case raises many potential issues to be carefully considered in spousal maintenance cases and makes it clear it is important to present expert testimony on potential investment income and its impact on cash flow or other important financial issues.