Spousal Support

If you depend on your husband or wife’s income, divorce can feel financially risky. However, temporary and ongoing spousal support can help you bridge the gap to financial stability and independence after your marriage is over.

What is Spousal Support?

Spousal support (also known as alimony) is money paid by one spouse to the other to assist in paying for their living expenses during and after divorce. Not every case involves spousal support. If both spouses are working and able to support themselves, the Judgment of Divorce will generally sever any remaining financial ties. However, it may be appropriate:

  • In long-term marriages (generally over 10 years)
  • Where one spouse was a stay-at-home parent or homemaker during the marriage
  • If one spouse is legitimately physically or mentally disabled or unable to work full-time
  • When the parties’ incomes are drastically different
  • If one spouse is primarily responsible for caring for and supporting the children or other dependents after the divorce and typically had been before the divorce as well

Factors for Calculating Spousal Support

When one party requests spousal support in their Complaint for Divorce or a motion for temporary (interim) spousal support, the Court will consider:

  1. Whether to award spousal support
  2. How much the payment should be
  3. How long the support will continue

The goal is to balance both spouses’ need for support and ability to pay in a way that is fair and equitable. To reach that goal, the Court will weigh several factors:

  • Parties’ past relations and conduct;
  • Length of the marriage;
  • Parties’ ability to work;
  • Source and amount of property awarded to the parties;
  • Parties’ ages;
  • Ability to pay spousal support;
  • Parties’ present situation;
  • Parties’ needs;
  • Parties’ health;
  • Prior standard of living of the parties and whether the parties support others;
  • Parties’ contributions to the joint estate;
  • A party’s fault in causing the divorce (keep in mind that this factor typically isn’t given much weight);
  • How cohabitation affects a party’s financial status; and
  • General principles of equity.

When it comes time to calculate the spousal support award, there is no rigid mathematical formula, like in Michigan child support cases. Instead, the Court once again turns to fairness, equity, and the needs and abilities of the parties to pay. It is important to work with your divorce and spousal support lawyer to establish a reasonable budget for life after divorce, which you can use to establish an appropriate support amount, or limit what you are ordered to pay. Note, however, that some child support calculator softwares, like Marginsoft, offer an option to run estimates for spousal support as well. While these calculations are not binding and can only take into account objective factors, depending on your judge/court, they may be a good starting point.

These factors and considerations are also used when the parties are negotiating a settlement through counsel and/or with the help of a mediator.

How Long Will Your Alimony Award Last?

There are four categories of spousal support in Michigan:

  • Interim (or Temporary) Spousal Support is awarded during the divorce process and ends usually when the Judgment of Divorce is entered or the Court otherwise orders
  • “Rehabilitative” Spousal Support is included in your Judgment of Divorce and is temporary support meant to help the spouse receiving it make the transition to supporting themselves. For example, when a spouse has a gap in his or her employment or needs time to receive training, find a new job, or complete their education, spousal support may be awarded over a period of months, years, or specific condition (i.e. graduation or obtaining employment) to allow them to do that
  • “Permanent” Spousal Support is included in your Judgment of Divorce and extends beyond the end of the case, usually until death, remarriage, sometimes cohabitation, or other significant change of circumstances
  • “Alimony in Gross” can be in lieu of receiving certain property distributions, or can be a one-time buy-out of ongoing spousal support payments that allows both parties to move on faster by eliminating a monthly entanglement

“Permanent” spousal support is generally rare. However, if a spouse is disabled, retired, or otherwise unable to work, permanent spousal support may continue until the death of the payer, or remarriage or cohabitation by the payee.

Can a Michigan Spousal Support Order be Changed?

Sometimes life circumstances change after a Judgment of Divorce is entered. You or your ex-spouse may get a new job, lose an old one, or retire. You might become unable to work or retire. Or your spouse might move in with a new romantic partner or get re-married. In most cases, when that happens you can file a motion to modify your spousal support award due to a change of circumstances, provided that your agreement was for modifiable support.

However, be mindful that in certain cases, parties agree to non-modifiable support and assuming the appropriate waivers are spelled out in the Judgment of Divorce/Settlement Agreement then virtually no change of circumstances can open the door for modifying support. On the other hand, if the Court decided on the terms of your spousal support award then it will always be modifiable because courts may not order non-modifiable spousal support in Michigan.

If you do decide to pursue a modification, you should act quickly because the amount of spousal support (and child support) you owe will continue to accumulate until a new court order is entered and there are significant limitations on retroactivity. Talk to a spousal support attorney to see if you can change your spousal support order and pay an amount that is reasonable for your current situation.

Getting a spousal support order to help you pay your bills after divorce often requires the help of an experienced divorce attorney. Schedule a consultation to discuss your specific situation and begin the divorce process for you and your family.