Janet L. Goehle, Attorney at Law
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Can parties agree that spousal support cannot be modified?

Parties to a divorce agreement in Minnesota may agree to spousal support as part of the decree. However, parties may forever bind themselves to a certain amount of support, or no support at all, by entering a Karon waiver.

The waiver is named after a 1989 Minnesota Supreme Court case addressing the parties' agreement that they would not alter the divorce decree's provisions regarding maintenance or support. The agreement was incorporated into the divorce decree and provided that the husband would pay his former spouse $1,200 per month for six years and $600 per month for another four years. The spouse later sought an increase in support.

The Court found that parties to a divorce may enter into an agreement to waive all maintenance at the time of the initial decree and that if they do so the court lacks any power to award this support in the future. If maintenance is awarded but its term has ended, a court may not award additional maintenance after that term has expired. The Court ruled that the parties' waiver prohibits any change in support and that courts cannot order post-divorce modifications.

The Court recognized that these stipulations are carefully drawn compromises which may affect property division and future income. Setting aside one part of the stipulation could jeopardize other agreements in the document or lead to prolonged litigation in the future. Settlement should be encouraged but the litigation of contentious matters should occur at the original dissolution proceedings.

Since this case, however, a Minnesota law was enacted which requires that a court make specific findings that the settlement is fair and equitable and is supported by consideration. If these written findings are not issued, a court may change the settlement if a party demonstrates a substantial change in circumstances showing that the existing award is unreasonable and unfair.

A Karon waiver is one of the many issues as to which legal advice may be vital because it can have significant and long-term financial ramifications. Knowledgeable legal assistance can help assure that a spouse's rights are protected in support agreements or any post-divorce modifications.

Source: LEAGLE, "Karon v. Karon, 433 N.W.2d 501 (1989)" and Court Listener, "Santillan v. Martine, 560 N.W.2d 749 (Minn.App. 1997)," Accessed Dec. 28, 2015

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