The Court of Appeals recently reminded us that alimony (or spousal maintenance as it is called by statute) is still very much alive and well in Family Court. After a recent trip to the Court of Appeals, an ex-Husband learned this after an unsuccessful attempt to show the Court that his ex-Wife’s improved health and new romantic partner were reasons for the Court to lower the Wife’s maintenance award. The Court didn’t agree with him.
The changes were not enough for the Court to modify the Wife’s maintenance award. Per the Court, the Husband needed to present “clear proof” of a substantial change in the Wife’s circumstances, citing its earlier decision, Tuthill v Tuthill, 399 N.W.2d 230 (Minn. Ct. App. 1987).
Husband didn’t show up to the fight empty-handed though. He showed the Court that the Wife’s circumstances had improved since the time of their divorce. For example, Wife, who receives social security disability, was now able to exercise, ride bike, work in her garden, and have another child.
And in order to show just how much her health had improved, Husband asked Wife to submit to medical exam. Wife refused, and the Court agreed with Wife, concluding that Wife’s medical condition was not in controversy and therefore ‘good cause’ did not exist, to examine her medical condition. What is ‘good cause’?
According to the Rules of Civil Procedure, ’good cause’ is something that is required for a court to compel a party to go through a medical evaluation. Citing Rule of Civil Procedure 35.01. The reason ‘good cause’ did not exist in the Husband’s case, was that Wife’s medical condition was never in controversy in the initial divorce. The parties, at the time of the divorce, chose not make an issue of Wife’s medical condition and instead they just agreed that Wife would receive maintenance. Her medical condition was not raised, therefore it gave the court no reason to consider Wife’s health now. Had the issue of Wife’s health been litigated in the divorce, Husband may have had a different outcome with his modification efforts.
Husband also asked Wife to divulge her medical records so that he could show improvements in her health. Wife again refused, citing medical privilege, meaning her medical records were only for her and doctors to look at. The Court, again, agreed with Wife, finding that because Wife never waived her medical privilege in the divorce proceeding by placing her medical condition in controversy, she could assert medical privilege now. By not placing her medical condition in controversy, Wife retained her right to assert medical privilege, and did not have to release medical records.
Husband wasn’t done though. He next showed the court that the Wife was benefiting from a new romantic relationship, one where her partner lived with her part-time, helped her financially by loaning money, treated her to meals out, and helped pay for improvements to her home.
The Court didn’t care. Citing Abbott v. Abbot, the Court concluded that Wife’s new relationship could not be a reason for terminating maintenance, unless the Wife benefited economically from the relationship, and, that benefit represented a substantial change. 282 N.W.2d 561, 566 (Minn. 1979). The Court did not find that this new relationship arose to the level of a substantial change, and therefore left Wife’s maintenance award alone.
Of note: it also didn’t help that Husband had already taken Wife to court 5 times within 10 years, in an effort to undo the maintenance award. Husband’s request may have garnered more response had it not been raised five (5) times prior.
Nonetheless, the Court made it clear that to revisit a maintenance award, the burden is very much on the shoulders of the party seeking the change, to make a clear case for a substantial change in circumstances.
Contact Beyer & Simonson
If you are facing divorce and any of the divorce-related issues such as spousal maintenance, child support, child custody, property division, or domestic abuse matters, you need our experienced Minneapolis divorce attorneys to help you. Contact Beyer & Simonson in Edina, Minnesota today at (952) 303-6007.