A case out of California got us thinking last week about the purpose of spousal maintenance and how fault fits in with maintenance decisions even in a no-fault divorce state. Because maintenance decisions, like all family law matters, are governed by state law, a similar case in Minnesota could lead to a completely different result. Still, states often look to one another for guidance when it comes to difficult issues.
The woman in the case pleaded guilty to charges of child abuse molestation and was sentenced to six years in prison. She had engaged in a long-term sexual relationship with a minor. The situation lasted in part because she was often home alone with her children (her husband often traveled for work), but during that time, the court said, she had created a difficult and abusive home environment for her children. She will have to register as a sex offender until April 2016.
Her husband filed for divorce soon after her sentence was handed down. Her portion of the marital estate came to nearly $1 million.
Her petition for spousal maintenance garnered some attention in the press. The hearing brought out more testimony about the details of her crime and the effect her actions had on her three children.
The judge denied her request. Her relationship may have been with a non-relative, but her actions amounted to emotional and psychological abuse of her own children and her ex-husband.
California law allows the court to deny spousal maintenance when there is documented evidence of a history of domestic violence and emotional distress resulting from those acts. The court cited, too, that the woman had received a substantial sum in the divorce.
Minnesota law is not that clear about spousal maintenance requests coming from someone with a history of domestic abuse. The statute addressing maintenance in general contemplates the reasons for support and factors to consider when determining the duration of support. But whether an ex-spouse's criminal history or history of domestic abuse should be considered may be left to the courts to decide.
Source: Santa Barbara Independent, "Genise Schu Denied Spousal Support," Tyler Hayden, Oct. 5, 2015