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Appellate Ruling on Spousal Maintenance

On Behalf of | Jan 31, 2022 | Firm News

On June 21, 2021 the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a precedential opinion regarding spousal maintenance. Either spouse may request an award of spousal maintenance; the district court must first determine their income and their reasonable monthly expenses. If a person cannot meet their expenses with their income, the district court must review several factors to determine whether an award of spousal maintenance is appropriate.

In Schmidt v. Schmidt, Wife’s request for spousal maintenance was denied after a three-day trial. The district court calculated Wife’s gross monthly income and made findings on her expenses and concluded she had a $293 surplus each month. Wife appealed, arguing that the district court should have used her net income, specifically that it failed to take into account her need to pay taxes. The Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that the district court must consider a party’s legal requirement to pay taxes on their wages and use a net income for the purposes of spousal maintenance determination. When taking taxes into account, the Court of Appeals wrote, Wife actually had a $1,000 deficit in her monthly budget.

Wife also appealed the district court’s findings on several parts of her monthly expenses. She argued that the district court failed to include the monthly cost of health insurance premiums and monthly retirement contributions in her budget when considering spousal maintenance.

The Court of Appeals found that Wife had testified at trial to the monthly cost of health insurance, and she had requested amended findings to include the cost in her budget, yet the district court failed to address the cost. The Court of Appeals held that the district court erred by failing to include the cost of health insurance in Wife’s monthly expenses.

Wife had also submitted evidence and testimony regarding the marital history of retirement contributions and her proposed monthly expenses included the cost of monthly retirement contributions. Yet, the district court’s trial order did not include retirement contributions for Wife’s monthly budget. The Court of Appeals held that, per Minn. Stat. § 518.552, the district court must consider the marital standard of living when making spousal maintenance determinations and that includes contributions to retirement. The Court of Appeals determined that the trial record “was unequivocal with respect to retirement savings,” and that there is “no logical reason to not include retirement savings in the parties’ respective monthly budgets.”

What does this mean for you? The justice system can make errors. Even after a three-day trial, Wife’s case was not won. Thankfully, her trial attorney presented detailed and thorough evidence regarding each and every part of her monthly expenses and income. That attorney’s diligence set her up for a successful appellate argument at the Court of Appeals. The appellate panel was able to clearly see that the district court had disregarded the significant evidence in her case. It is important to have experienced and meticulous counsel for your divorce to protect your future. Contact Messick Law PLLC today to discuss how we can help.