Forward Thinking Family Law Since 1994

Spousal Support – What are the “Guidelines?”

Under Michigan law, there are well-known child support guidelines which provide a uniform system of calculating, in precise dollar terms, the amount of child support owed.  Basically, given a mother's income, a father's income, the number of children and certain other objective factors, the Michigan Child Support Guidelines generate a figure upon which the parties can typically rely as being a fairly accurate prediction of what their child support obligations actually will be.

Frequently, clients wish to know their "guidelines" for the spousal support they may owe or be owed.  In Michigan, there is no one-size-fits-all rule or formula for spousal support (sometimes called by its former name, "alimony").  Far from there being a uniform rule  for calculating spousal support, the Michigan Court of Appeals recently issued a decision making it clear that spousal support decisions must be based on a case by case basis.

In Myland v. Myland, (Michigan Court of Appeals, Docket  No. 292868, November 23, 2010),  the court overturned the spousal support decision of a trial court, which has used its own, unique and "rigid" mathematical formula to determine the amount of spousal support to be paid to the former wife.  In the Myland opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals made it clear that there exists no simple rule for determining spousal support but that each trial court must carefully weigh the parties' actual needs and resources, their future prospects and their abilities to earn in each instance.

Spousal support is focused on enabling the parties to make provision for their future lives.  It is not a part of the property settlement.  Since spousal support looks to the future, its goals are (1) to balance the incomes and needs of the parties and (2) to avoid impoverishing either party.

As the Myland case makes clear, Michigan courts must treat every claim for spousal support with a careful consideration of all of the relevant factors.   The main factors that often will enter into a spousal support determination are:

  • Length of the Marriage
  • The Parties' Ages
  • Each Party's Health
  • The Parties' Needs
  • Ability to Work
  • Ability to Pay
  • Source and Amount of Property Awarded
  • Possibility of Improving a Party's Income-Earning Capacity
  • Prior Standard of Living
  • The Parties' Contribution to the Marital Estate
  • General Principles of Equity (or "Fairness")
  • Significant Issues of Fault

Despite the legal requirement for case-by-case analysis, there exist some commonly-used spousal support "guidelines" formulas which often assist courts and family law practitioners in Michigan in setting a possible range for spousal support.  However, as experienced family law practitioners in Michigan know, each court and each county may exhibit a particular philosophy of spousal support that may be pertinent to particular issues in a particular case.  An experienced Michigan family law attorney will be an invaluable resource in understanding and navigating the particular factors of spousal support presented in each case.