Appeals Court Limits Permanent Alimony

“Appeals Court Limits Permanent Alimony” is an Associated Press article  partner Linda Allen.

A spouse who doesn’t try to become self-sufficient after a divorce shouldn’t be awarded long-term alimony, the Minneasota Court of Appeals has decided.

A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday in the case of Patricia Youker, who earned a two-year fashion degree during her 18-year marriage. She was dressing mannequins for a department store and earning much less than her husband, Nick, when they divorced in 1999.

An Anoka Country judge first awarded her $1,000 a month in temporary alimony, then $500 a month permanently when she said last year that she couldn’t find a job or take classes to support herself.

But the appeals panel ruled that Youker’s claims of browsing newspaper employment ads and inquiring about technical schools weren’t adequate steps toward independent living.

Some attorneys see the case as a welcome blow to spousal support laws they consider overly generous. Others worry about the implications for women such as Youker, now 42 and back on the job market in a dismal economy.

There are two types of alimony in Minnesota. Temporary alimony is for a specific time and comes with the understanding the dependent spouse, usually the wife, will spend the time becoming self-reliant, said Judy Engel, a family law attorney.

When permanent alimony is awarded, the dependent spouse receives support until remarriage or death.

Unlike with child support, there are no formal spousal support guidelines, though judges do consider the finances of both spouses, the standard of living during marriage and the age and physical condition of the spouse seeking support.

Linda Allen, an attorney who focuses her practice on such cases, said the Appeals Court ruling will encourage self-reliance, particularly for people who aren’t in marriages that last 30 to 40 years.