Clients often ask me: “how can I change my spousal maintenance (alimony) order?”
So long as there is not an agreement that the district court can never change the order, a district court may modify a spousal maintenance award if the person seeking the modification establishes that there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the most recent modification.
To establish that there has been a substantial change in circumstances, the spouse seeking the modification must show that one spouse has had a significant increase or decrease in gross income or a significant increase or decrease in need, and must further demonstrate that the change renders the current maintenance award “unreasonable and unfair.”
Where the income of the person who is paying spousal maintenance (alimony) has decreased substantially, Minnesota Courts have typically found grounds for a reduction or elimination of the obligor’s spousal maintenance obligation.
In fact, a substantial change in circumstances is presumed if the gross income of the either the person paying or receiving the spousal maintenance (alimony) has decreased by at least 20 percent, provided that such change is not the fault or choice of either party.
Once the district court determines that there has been a substantial change in circumstances warranting a modification, it must apply the factors in the statute to determine the amount of the maintenance award.
If you don’t agree with the decision of the district court, you can appeal to a higher court to review its decision. When these types of orders have been appealed, it is well established that a district court’s order regarding support will be reversed if this appellate court is convinced that the lower court abused its discretion by reaching a clearly erroneous conclusion that is against logic and the facts on record.
In other words, the appellate court has the power to review a district court’s decision regarding a spousal-maintenance modification for an abuse of its discretion.
A district court has broad discretion over issues of spousal maintenance but will be ruled to have abused that discretion when it resolves a maintenance question in a manner that is against logic and unsupported by the facts on the record.
In other words, the district court will be found to have abused its discretion if it modifies a maintenance award without findings of fact that are supported by the record or if it improperly applies the law.
A finding of changed circumstances is a factual finding that will not be set aside unless it is clearly erroneous, and the change of circumstances can be express or implied by the findings of the district court.
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