Minnesota Court of Appeals Upholds Denial of Spousal Maintenance Award to Wife Who Is Receiving Disability Benefits

Minnesota Court of Appeals Upholds Denial of Spousal Maintenance Award to Wife Who Is Receiving Disability Benefits

In Rakow v. Rakow, A#14-281 (Minn. Ct. App. (Dec. 8, 2014)(unpublished), the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed a district court decision denying current spousal maintenance payments while reserving a future award to a wife who was receiving Social Security disability benefits due to a work-related injury, noting that the district court had awarded the wife a larger share of the couple’s property than the husband received. The couple had been married for ten years when the wife petitioned to dissolve the marriage and asked for permanent spousal maintenance, and they apparently did not have any children.


Spousal Support in Minnesota

The Court of Appeals noted that district courts have broad discretion in awarding spousal maintenance. Under Minnesota Statutes Section 518.003, subd. 3a, spousal maintenance “is an award of payments from the future income or earnings of one spouse for the support and maintenance of the other.” Further, under Minnesota Statute Section 518.552, subd. 1, a district court can award spousal maintenance to a spouse if she

  1. lacks sufficient property, including marital property apportioned to the spouse, to provide for reasonable needs of the spouse considering the standard of living established during the marriage, especially, but not limited to a period of training or education, or
  2. is unable to provide adequate self-support, after considering the standard of living established during the marriage and all relevant circumstances, through appropriate employment . . .

That statute, in subdivision B, sets out eight factors that should be considered, along with other relevant factors in awarding spousal maintenance:

  • the resources of the party seeking maintenance, including the property settlement and their ability to meet their needs;
  • the time to complete education and training to become self-sufficient and the likelihood, given the spouse’s age and skills, of becoming full or partially self-sufficient;S
  • the marital standard of living;
  • the length of the marriage and, in the case of a homemaker, the length of absence from employment and the extent to which earning capacity was diminished due to the time out of the workforce;
  • the loss of earnings, seniority, retirement benefits, and other employment opportunities forgone by the spouse seeking spousal maintenance;
  • the age, and the physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance
  • the ability of the spouse who is being asked to pay maintenance to meet needs while also meeting the other spouse’s needs; and
  • each party’s contribution to the amount or value of marital property as well as a homemaker’s contribution to furthering the other party’s employment or business.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals found that the district court had adequately considered the relevant factors. In this case, while the wife had not worked at all since August 2012 and her doctor had not been released to work by her doctor, she was planning on back surgery in the next few months which could enable her to return to work. The court noted that she injured her back in a work-related injury and had not lost any income or employment opportunities because of her marriage, and she had worked until her injury.

Further, the court noted that the standard of living during the marriage was beyond the parties’ means, as they had incurred debt to maintain their standard of living, including mortgage debt, loans, and credit card debt.

The court noted that the wife’s monthly income was $1,373 while her monthly expenses totaled $3,108, leaving a deficit of $1,735. In comparison, the husband’s monthly income was $5,108.55 with reasonable monthly expenses of $5,146.68, for a deficit of $38.13. The court did not compare the parties’ post-divorce living expenses or compare them to the parties’ marital standard of living.

The court had taken into consideration the parties’ economic circumstances in crafting the property settlement. Thus, the wife was awarded the entire $14,575 in motor vehicle value and one half of the marital portion of the husband’s pension and his entire employment thrift savings plan, which was more than $20,000, while the husband was to be solely liable for the negative home equity balance, which was close to $70,000.

If the wife is unable to return to work, or she exhausts the property settlement, or her circumstances otherwise change, she would be able to petition for an award of spousal maintenance as the court did reserve the ability to make a future maintenance award.

In any case in which spousal maintenance is an issue, it is useful to consult with an attorney experienced in family law.