In December of 2009, Minnesota Judge Stephen Halsey (chambered in Wright County) launched his Minnesota Family Law Issues Blog, a terrific resource for both lawyers and litigants. As I understand, Judge Halsey’s blog is the first of it’s kind in Minnesota (from the judiciary). His unique perspective provides an interesting addition to the exchange of family law information online – including podcasts.
Judge Halsey’s post entitled Post-Decree Modification of Maintenance: Pension as Income or Property caught my attention as I was reviewing the posts of others today. Judge Halsey writes:
A recent unpublished Court of Appeals decision, Hemp, 2010 WL 1657024, is worthy of review by family law practitioners and judges as it considers once again which portions of a maintenance obligor’s pension may be considered as income or property when a motion to modify maintenance is brought. The Court discusses Lee, 775 NW2d 631 (Minn.2009), which held “a district court may include in its calculation of an obligor’s ability to pay maintenance the portion of an obligor’s monthly pension payment exceeding the amount the obligor is entitled to receive each month as marital property.”
The Court of Appeals in Hemp approved the district court’s apportionment of the monthly pension benefit between what is marital property and what is not. The district court, however, erred in its interpretation of the valuation method used in the original dissolution decree.
I think one lesson to be learned is that counsel and the court should make detailed findings of fact in the original decree as to the valuation method agreed-upon by the parties or as ordered by the court so that such method is clear to the court hearing post-decree motions on maintenance.
In a good number of the cases we handle, the issue of spousal maintenance is front and center. From my perspective, the most important part in settling a maintenance claim involves agreeing to a specific timetable for payment. A client may pay a bit more than they like, but the fact that there is a cap on their future liability is usually worth it. The benefit to the recipient? These timetables usually accompany a non-modifiable (even if their ex’s income drops significantly) maintenance award.