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.