Michigan’s Approach to Alimony
In Oakland County and throughout the rest of Michigan, the court must determine what amount of alimony (spousal support) is fair and reasonable under the circumstances. However, people commonly misunderstand the objective of alimony, how it works, and when they are entitled to it. While the popular perception of alimony is that a woman will receive an abundance of her soon-to-be ex-husband’s assets after a heated divorce leaving him nearly destitute, alimony actually operates “to balance the incomes and needs of the parties in a way that will not impoverish either party.” Generally, a person facing divorce is entitled to alimony, if a court determines that he or she has become dependent during the marriage and it would be necessary to ensure that he or she continue to receive a steady stream of income. We help many divorcing couples understand their alimony options. Contact us online or call (248) 479-6200
Family courts in Michigan determine if alimony is appropriate on a case-by-case basis, and they have broad discretion in the amount that they award. However, there is a bit of predictability in how the courts rule regarding alimony in the sense that they use the following 11 factors to make their determination:
(1) the parties’ past relations and conduct
(2) the length of the marriage
(3) the parties’ ability to work
(4) the source and amount of property awarded to the parties
(5) the parties’ ages
(6) the ability to pay spousal support
(7) the parties’ present situation
(8) the parties’ needs
(9) the parties’ health
(10) the prior standard of living of the parties and whether the parties support others
(11) general principles of equity
The court must weigh all of the factors that relate to the particular divorce case, make findings on those factors, and state the basis for its findings on the record. While some of the factors may not be applicable to every case, the court may not weigh one factor too heavily without giving proportionate attention to the others. Also, it is important to note that although fault (factor 1) is not grounds for divorce in Michigan (because this is a no-fault jurisdiction), fault may be considered when dividing marital property and determining alimony, but only to a certain extent. Alimony is not designed to punish, but rather to sustain a dependent spouse who faces a lack of steady income at the onset of a divorce, and Michigan courts employ principles of equity in spousal support cases. This means that spousal support awards are dependent upon what is just and reasonable under the circumstances.
Types of Alimony
In Michigan, there are 3 types of alimony: (1) permanent periodic, (2) lump sum, and (3) rehabilitative.
Permanent periodic alimony refers to regular (usually monthly) maintenance and support payments to a spouse who is not self-sustaining. Generally, permanent periodic alimony is modifiable if the spouse seeking to alter it can show a substantial change in circumstances.
Lump Sum Alimony is a fixed amount awarded to a dependent spouse, which can be paid either all at once or broken down into a series of payments. Because it, unlike permanent periodic payment alimony is not modifiable (cannot be changed), it does not automatically terminate if the dependent spouse remarries.
Finally, rehabilitative alimony consists of payments of support for only a set amount of time to assist a dependent spouse in obtaining skills, education, or any other necessary component to supporting themselves. This type of alimony is modifiable if the party seeking to change it can show a substantial change in circumstances. Currently, this is a common form of spousal support, while permanent child support seems to be losing favor with the courts.
The Enforcement of Spousal Support
The procedure for making a spousal support order is prescribed by MCR 3.211. This Michigan Court Rule requires that (1) a Uniform Support Order be prepared regarding all spousal support provisions; (2) the final spousal support judgment refer to the Uniform Support Order or state that no such order is necessary; and (3) personal information about the party against whom the order is entered be relayed to the Friend of the Court.
The Friend of the Court uses the Support and Parenting Time Enforcement Act and other statutes to enforce spousal support orders. Generally, these orders are enforced through income withholding mechanisms, which are orders that require a person’s employer to withhold certain amounts from his or her income. The employer will then send that amount to the Friend of the Court as ordered.
Other enforcement measures are liens on real and personal property, the suspension of licenses, and the attachment of pension plan proceeds. Spousal support awards can also be enforced through sanctions, such as contempt. This means that enforcement can be in the form of civil or criminal penalties. In fact, in Michigan, the failure to pay a spousal support payment in the amount ordered or at the time ordered constitutes a felony, for which a person can be imprisoned for up to four years.
Grounds for Modification of a Spousal Support Order
There are a number of grounds for modifying a spousal support award, such as remarriage, cohabitation, or change in need or ability to pay. Although there may be other grounds for modifying spousal support, we will address just a few here.
Unless the parties agree otherwise in their judgment of divorce, the remarriage of the spousal support recipient may be grounds to modify the support order. The court has discretion in deciding how to modify the award in such instances. However, remarriage alone is not sufficient to outright terminate spousal support. Usually, the court will require other facts to be present in the case to terminate a support award. Cohabitation, coupled with other factors, may also be a basis for modifying a spousal support award. In other words, cohabitation alone will not be enough to modify an award. However, the parties may agree in the judgment of divorce that cohabitation is a ground for terminating or modifying a support award.
Change in need and change in ability to pay are both sufficient reasons to change a spousal support award. A change in need can arise where the recipient becomes eligible for Social Security benefits or loses his or her job or home. A change in ability to pay can occur because the payor has a significant increased or decreased ability. However, note that a simple change in the form of income will not suffice to modify a spousal support award.
Our Oakland County Family Law Team Can Help
Alimony, like other aspects of divorce can be daunting for anyone. These matters are difficult to handle, especially in the midst of divorce. For that reason, you should not attempt to tackle these types of issues alone. A great deal is at stake. It is imperative that you obtain qualified legal assistance when facing divorce, property division, alimony, and other family law issues.
Our Oakland County Family Law team has had ample success in handling Family Law matters and is on standby to assist you. Call us with your issue and get the help you need and deserve.
We are available for phone consultations and meetings during and after business hours. Our office is conveniently located at 30300 Northwestern Highway. That’s located in the Gem Building near 13 Mile and Northwestern. Office meetings are by appointment.