Karon Waiver Prevails, Even if Parties Agree Otherwise

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: divorce, Karon waiver.

In re the Marriage of: Melissa Lynn Gossman v. Jonathan Douglas Gossman . MN divorce, Karon waiver

At the time of their 2010 divorce, Jonathan Douglas Gossman and Melissa Lynn Gossman entered into a marital termination agreement calling for Mr. Gossman to pay $5000 per month in spousal maintenance. Their agreement included a waiver under Karon v. Karon, 435 N.W.2d 501 (Minn. 1989), in which they agreed that the court would be divested of jurisdiction to modify the maintenance provisions. Notwithstanding this agreement, five months later, the parties agreed to reduce the maintenance obligation to $3400. In 2011, they agreed two more times to reduce the obligation, first to $2400, and then to $1160. The Washington County District Court agreed to these changes and issued orders.

In 2012, Ms. Gossman changed her mind and asked the court to reinstate the original $5000 maintenance. She argued that the court had no jurisdiction to make the modifications, notwithstanding her agreement. The court agreed, and vacated the two prior orders. It held, however, that it would be inequitable to hold Mr. Gossman liable for the past maintenance obligation. Mr. Gossman appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals held that the Karon waiver was valid. Therefore, the subsequent orders, even though agreed to by both parties, were void and unenforceable.

Furthermore, the Court went on to hold that the lower court's failure to enforce the past obligation also constituted an improper modification of the original order. Therefore, it reversed that portion of the court's order, and remanded the case to allow Ms. Gossman to enforce the original judgment.

Practice Pointer. This case makes clear that the Minnesota courts will enforce a Karon waiver, even if the parties agree that the court can resume jurisdiction. As Judge Rodenberg stated in his concurring opinion, "Today's decision is an additional reminder, if one were necessary, that a Karon waiver should only be entered into carefully and thoughtfully." But it seems to me that by more carefully drafting the modification, the parties could have avoided the harsh result of this case. In the first modification, the parties agreed to reduce the obligation from $5000 per month to $3400 per month over the next five years. It seems to me that the parties could have effected this modifications by drafting the agreement differently. For example, assume that Mr. Gossman had agreed to sell Ms. Gossman a piece of personal property for $96,000. Ms. Gossman would then execute a promissory note to pay this amount at the rate of $1600 per month for the next 60 months. His maintenance obligation would remain $5000 per month, but he could offset the $1600 debt, for a net payment to her of the desired $3400 per month. At the very least, he would be somewhat protected if the court, as here, enforced the original judgment, since he could maintain a separate civil action to collect the $1600.

No. A13-1095 (Minn. Ct. App. June 2, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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