This is what a lot of divorced men in Minnesota have waited for. I finally went to court under the new cohabitation law and got a ruling back. I apologize in advance – this is a long post but the details are necessary. So settle in and enjoy the crazy ride. Please keep your hands and feet inside until the ride is over.
I was married in 1995 in Minnesota and have one son born in 2000. In 2012 my son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (which is very expensive even with good health benefits) and shortly after the diagnosis my then wife unexpectedly moved to Missouri with no prior notice to live with her mother and her mother’s long-term boyfriend of over 10 years. Less than a week after moving the mother’s boyfriend ended the relationship with my son’s grandmother and has been living with my then wife ever since in Missouri.
The upside of the divorce is that I received full physical custody of my son. He is what keeps me going and I am blessed to have him in my life every day.
The financial downside was that I agreed to pay $1,752 a month (over $21,000 a year) in alimony which is almost impossible on a five figure salary as a single parent with a son with high medical costs.
The emotional downside was that my son has not had his mother in his life on a daily basis for over four years, and he still is very resistant to his mother living with the man he had previously thought of as a grandfather figure.
In February of this year I finally faced the fact that unless alimony was reduced we would lose our home. Along with the $1,752 I currently pay in spousal maintenance every month I am still carrying over $40,000 in credit card debt from primarily attorney fees and therapy costs for my son going back to 2012. The reality is I cannot support my son, myself and my ex on just my salary even living frugally. Just my mortgage, alimony and the minimum payment on my credit card is $4,000 a month before paying all other bills and it leaves me with no hope of ever bringing the credit card balance down. For months I reached out to my ex asking if she would at least be willing to discuss alimony, or to try mediation as is required by our divorce agreement, but she refused every request. Finally I began preparing my son to accept the fact that we would most likely have to move soon which understandably upset him, but there was no other option.
In July my attorney contacted me about a new law that was going into effect in August. It was signed by Governor Mark Dayton and was designed to protect people that are paying alimony to someone that is cohabitating but intentionally not getting remarried to keep collecting alimony. My attorney felt that since my ex had been living with the same man since 2012 that we had a strong case under this new law. I decided to retain his services in a last ditch attempt to take the issue to court and to save our home.
And my attorney does a great job. He covers all four bases of the new cohabitation law:
Would they marry if not for spousal maintenance? My ex moved 600 miles away from our son to live with this man – there is obviously a strong connection between them. The man ended a 12 year relationship with the ex’s mom to be with my ex. We provide text messages, Facebook messages and social media posts of my ex talking about the relationship.
Economic benefit? My ex freely admits during deposition that “I don’t even have to work, but I am” because the man she lives with wants to take care of her. She also admits that she doesn’t pay any rent living with this man. We prove that my ex’s bank statements show that her actual expenses for the last twelve months are about $700 a month less than her budget claims they are.
Will cohabitation continue? Both my ex and the man she lives with freely admit that they see no end to cohabitation. My attorney points out again that she left Minnesota to live with this man and they have already lived together continuously for over four years. Why would she move and continue to live 600 miles away from her son if she did not think it would continue?
The impact to my ex if cohabitation ends? My attorney shows that my ex’s current earnings in Missouri are less than two-thirds of what she has earned over many years in Minnesota. He argues that she has intentionally remained underemployed to avoid losing any alimony, but has the ability to support herself easily in Minnesota close to her son without spousal maintenance if she wished to.
He shows that over the last year my ex has accrued additional funds in her checking and savings accounts while also contributing to a retirement plan. He shows that over the same time I have gone over $9,000 further in debt and have not been able to put anything towards retirement since I began paying spousal maintenance. He shows that even though my ex’s actual budget is $700 less than she has claimed she still spends almost as much on herself for food, clothing and daily care as I spend on both myself and our son combined. He explains that I am just trying to keep my modest split level home on a quarter acre lot, where our son can stay in the school he attends with friends he has known his entire life and keep his pet beagle that he is very attached to. Since my ex lives in a larger home on a 10 acre lot rent free we feel this is a very fair request.
My attorney summarizes by pointing out that this is exactly a textbook example of the type of situation that the new cohabitation law was created to prevent. Based upon this we ask for termination of spousal maintenance, and if this is not agreed to at the very least suspension or a reduction of spousal maintenance.
What happened was beyond the worst case scenario. Not only was my request to change to spousal maintenance denied but the judge actually INCREASED spousal maintenance and made the increase retroactive back seven months. The judge also is requiring me to pay her attorney’s fees in addition to my own attorney fees. And a surprising development: the judge demanded weekly phone calls between our son and his mother and overnight stays during visitations. While I myself have supported and pushed for this as well it concerned me because NEITHER ONE OF US ASKED FOR ANY CHANGES TO VISITATION IN OUR MOTIONS TO THE COURT.
In short – I am both shocked and outraged. For over four years I have done the job of two parents while working a demanding job with a long commute – cooking, cleaning, laundry, doctor’s appointments, and a thousand other things. I’ve brought my son to therapy and also Alateen sessions at the recommendation of one of the therapists. I’ve done this alone as a single parent with no help and have always been happy to do it. My son and I are closer than ever. We go running together and have competed in races, we go hiking, critique movies, and everything else you would hope to do with your child. Yet for four years I feel I have been painted as a villain in court and that this swayed what should have been a straight-forward financial decision about alimony. I have remained silent in the past but cannot any longer. I do believe that the relationship between my son and his mother has been very damaged but I do not feel that the fault lies with me. I remember what daily life was like leading up to my ex choosing to move to Missouri, and since 2012 my son has only spent about 50 hours a year with his mother. I supported three different therapists recommended by my ex and, although I disagreed each time, I supported her decision as she asked therapy to end with each one. I have told her that I believe living with her mother’s former boyfriend is not a healthy decision since our son had previously thought of him as a grandfather, but I have respected her decision to stay with him. I will continue to support these choices, but it does not mean I agree with them and do not accept blame for the effect these decisions have on our son.
It is very frustrating that the last things I hoped to keep control of for my son – the home he has grown up in, the friends he has had his entire life, even his pet beagle – may now all be lost because of what I feel was an unfair and unjust ruling by the court.
So now I will be paying more alimony, plus a cost of living expense retroactive back to May, and thousands in her legal fees. Unless I fight this I will lose our home with little options as to where to live.
So I choose to fight – for my son’s sake.
I’ve been told an appeal is very expensive, but at this point it doesn’t matter. On top of my past debt I’ve already accrued legal fees bringing this to court and now have to pay my ex’s legal fees as well. My rights and my son’s rights have been ignored since the beginning. This case will possibly shape how other cases go in the future with the new cohabitation law so I feel it is important to appeal if possible. Our judge was actually appointed by Governor Mark Dayton but I feel the intent of the law was ignored and I was actually penalized despite having strong evidence to support my case, in addition to adding items to the ruling that weren’t part of either motion.
And a final comment: Instead of saving our home the new cohabitation law passed by Governor Mark Dayton will now likely lose me my home. The judge that ruled on our case was appointed by Governor Dayton, yet I now feel that I have been severely penalized for seeking justice and am very skeptical of the intent of this law. I will keep everybody updated on how the appeal goes to see if this new law was created to help parents like me (as it was presented) or if it was just another political trick to give more money to lawyers while ignoring the needs of good dads that are just asking for fairness and are trying to provide for their children. The outcome of the appeal will definitely affect who I vote for in the next gubernatorial election, and I hope it will for others as well.
I wish you all the best of luck, good health and happiness. Please share my story with others and keep my son and me in your thoughts. If you have any questions or comments feel free to reach me at AlimonyAppealForJustice@gmail.com.* I will try to post any big developments and the outcome of the appeal if I am permitted. God bless and thank you all.
*Minnesota Alimony Reform (MNAR) note: This story is published just as submitted to MNAR. The email listed within this story is that of the story submitter and not related to MNAR. If you would like to contact MNAR, please contact us through the MNAR Contact Us Page