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Extension > Family > Parents Forever™ > For families > Resources for families > Taking Care of Yourself > The Legal Side of Family Transition > Understanding Spousal Maintenance

The Legal Side of Family Transition

Understanding Spousal Maintenance

Madeleine Alberts, Children, Youth and Family Program Leader; M. Kathleen Mangum, Sandra Syverson, and Barbara Radke, Extension Educators; and Minnell Tralle, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency


In divorce or separation proceedings, the court may order one party to make payments to the other party. These payments are called spousal maintenance payments, also called "alimony" or "spousal support" payments.

Spousal maintenance is not the same as child support. Spousal maintenance payments can be ordered by a court whether or not a divorcing couple has children.

A court may order the payment of spousal maintenance in a divorce or legal separation for several reasons. Under Minnesota law, spousal maintenance payments are awarded if the person seeking such support:

In some cases, the court may order spousal maintenance payments for a limited time (temporary payments) to enable the requesting individual to complete training or education for employment. An order of permanent spousal maintenance requires payments to continue indefinitely or until a specific event occurs, such as remarriage of the requesting individual.

If a person gives up (waives) a claim for spousal maintenance payments, he or she cannot come back to court and ask for them later. However, an individual can ask the court to “reserve” spousal maintenance, which allows him or her to request such payments in the future.

In the past, most spousal maintenance awards provided for payments to former wives by “breadwinning” former husbands. Nowadays, most marriages include two wage earners, and both parents are expected to fulfill their parental responsibilities after divorce. The courts and spousal maintenance awards have kept pace with these societal changes.

Sources (2008). When is spousal maintenance (alimony) granted? Getting a divorce: A basic guide to Minnesota law.

The Office of the Revisor of Statutes. Minnesota Statute 518.552.

Office on the Economic Status of Women (Minnesota). (2014). A guide to child support and spousal maintenance cost-of-living adjustments.

Related resources

Changes in Child Support Over TimeFind out about the circumstances under which child support can be changed or modified.

A Guide to Child Support and Spousal Maintenance Cost-of-Living AdjustmentsOffice on the Economic Status of Women — This guide helps parents obtain a cost-of-living adjustment to a child support or spousal support maintenance order in Minnesota.

Being Successful with Coparenting — Building a coparenting relationship with your children's other parent isn't always easy. These resources can help.

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