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Alimony Reform Bill Passes House Committee

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- A Minnesota House Committee approved Tuesday a bill that could dramatically change the way some divorced spouses pay alimony.

The proposed law could end permanent spousal maintenance if your ex moves in with a romantic partner.

That's what happened to Dr. Michael Thomas, a dentist from Marshall, Minnesota.

He reported paying his ex-wife $5,200 a month, even though she bought a Florida condo and moved in with her boyfriend.

Now, a bill by Rep. Peggy Scott would allow a court to modify or terminate spousal maintenance if the ex is cohabitating with another person, and was awarded alimony under different circumstances.

And it's not only men who are affected.

"I feel like a prisoner stuck in a nightmare that never ends," said Anne Thompson, of Roseville, who said she's paying $1,200 a month in permanent alimony to her ex-husband, who lives with his girlfriend and doesn't work.

"I can't afford to pay for my 19-year-old son's college education or to plan for my own retirement," she said.

Stephen Valentine told lawmakers a similar story, after his ex-wife's new boyfriend moved into her house.

"My ex-wife is able to support the boyfriend, while he lives in our house for free," Valentine said, "and I must provide the financial support for their lifestyle."

Thomas started a website to change the laws. It's called Minnesota Alimony Reform and it collects what it calls "nightmare stories."

But some lawmakers showed little sympathy on Tuesday, noting such a law change could backfire on women, many of whom struggle after divorce.

And one questioned is: Why are high income ex-spouses like Thomas complaining at all?

"When you have someone who makes $500,000 a year," said Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, "and they are complaining because their spousal maintenance is $5,000 a month, and they have to live on $450,000 a year -- you don't necessarily feel very sympathetic."

Minnesota would be among only a handful of states tackling permanent spousal maintenance.

It has passed in only four other states: Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, and Kansas.

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