Oakland County Spousal Support Attorneys
Michigan’s Approach to Alimony
In Oakland County and throughout Metro Detroit and all of Southeast Michigan, the court determines a fair and reasonable amount of alimony (spousal support), if any is warranted in your specific circumstance. However, many people fail to understand exactly how alimony or spousal support works. These are two phrases that mean exactly the same thing. It is popular belief that women receive an abundance of alimony while men are left nearly destitute. This is not the goal of alimony. Alimony operates “to balance the incomes and needs of the parties in a way that will not impoverish either party.”
Normally, someone facing divorce is entitled to alimony if he/she has become dependent on their spouse during the course of their marriage “of long duration”. The unofficial practice seems to be that a “lengthy marriage” is defined as ten years or more. This is not a law or a firm rule but rather a very general guideline. Alimony then ensures that the dependent spouse can continue to live with a steady stream of income for some period of time determined by the court. Contact us online or call or Oakland County office at (248)-479-6200 to get advice on your alimony options. The Kronzek Firm is conveniently located on Northwestern Highway near Inskster in Farmington Hills.
In Michigan, family courts decide alimony on a case-by-case basis and there is no precise formula on how they determine alimony. However, there are at least 11 factors that they use to make the decision:
- The parties’ past relations and conduct
- The length of the marriage
- The parties’ ability to work
- The source and amount of property awarded to the parties
- The parties’ ages
- The ability to pay spousal support
- The parties’ present situation
- The parties’ needs
- The parties’ health
- The prior standard of living of the parties and whether the parties also support others
- The general principles of equity
The court must weigh all factors when deciding alimony, and cannot put severely disproportionate weight on one factor over another. All factors do not have to be weighed equally and in fact in many cases, some of the alimony factors might not apply at all. The court must also explain its alimony decision and put this explanation on the record. Although fault is not a grounds for divorce in Michigan, fault cmight play a role in determining alimony – though only to a certain extent, because all 11 factors must be considered when applicable. And even though fault is taken into consideration, alimony is never meant to punish either party. More and more judges disregard fault in deciding alimony. Alimony is designed to sustain a dependent spouse during and after the divorce. Michigan courts make their alimony decisions based on what is fair and equitable for each spouse under their specific circumstances.
Types of Alimony
There are three types of alimony / spousal support in Michigan: permanent periodic, lump sum, and rehabilitative.
Permanent periodic alimony is a regular (often monthly) maintenance payment to support a spouse who was previously dependent. This type of payment is normally modifiable if the spouse seeking to modify it can prove a significant change in circumstance. In fact if the alimony is decided by a judge rather than negotiated by the parties as a part of their overall divorce settlement, the court must order that alimony is modifiable when circumstances change. In other words, Michigan family courts are not authorized to order alimony that is not modifiable. On the other hand, spousal support settlements are often not modifiable because the attorneys and parties prefer some degree of certainty about the future.
A lump sum payment is when the court decides a fixed amount of alimony, either to be paid all at once or over a designated period of time. This type of alimony cannot be changed or altered, even if circumstances change. For example, even if the spouse receiving the payments remarries, the spouse making the payments must continue until the entire designated amount has been paid in full.
Finally, rehabilitative payments are made to help the previously dependent spouse gain new skills, education, or another component that will allow them to finally become self-sustaining. This type of alimony can be altered if the spouse requesting the alteration demonstrates significantly changed circumstances. This is currently the most common type of spousal support, with child support payments losing popularity in the courts.
Whichever kind of alimony is either settled on or ordered by the court, those payments will only be considered to be alimony if they conform to Section 71 of the Internal Revenue Code.
The Enforcement of Spousal Support
The procedure for making a spousal support order is outlined in MCR 3.211. This Michigan Court Rule has three requirements: (1) that a Uniform Support Order be prepared regarding all spousal support provisions; (2) that the final spousal support judgment either refer to the Uniform Support Order or state that no such order is necessary; and (3) that the personal information about the party against whom the order is entered by relayed to the Friend of the Court.
To enforce spousal support orders, the Friend of the Court uses the Support and Parenting Time Enforcement Act, along with other statutes. With this, a person can make spousal support payments automatically. The employer will withhold a designated amount of money from that person’s paycheck and gives this money to the Friends of the Court, who will in turn give the money to the spouse designated to receive the money.
Spousal support orders are also enforced using 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. In other words, failure to pay spousal support could mean facing civil or criminal penalties. Actually, in Michigan a person can be charged with a felony and face up to four years of prison if he/she does not pay alimony on time or in the amount designated by the court and they have the ability to do so.
Grounds for Modification of a Spousal Support Order
Depending on your situation, it could be possible to change your spousal support order if modifiable alimony was ordered in your Judgment of Divorce. Some of the acceptable reasons for a new spousal support order include cohabitation, remarriage, or change in need or ability to pay. There are also other reasons for a new spousal support order, but some of the main ones are discussed here.
Unless the Judgment of Divorce specifies otherwise, there could be grounds for modifying the spousal support order if the recipient remarries. However, a remarriage does not necessitate a modification. It is up to the court to decide if and how a modification to the spousal support award might take place. A combination of cohabitation and other factors could also be grounds for modification, but, again, cohabitation alone would not guarantee a modification. It is possible, however, that the Judgment of Divorce specifies that cohabitation would allow an end to spousal support payments.
Two common reasons for a modification to the spousal support order are change in need and change in ability to pay. A change in need might occur if the recipient of the payments becomes eligible for Social Security benefits or loses his/her job or home. A change in ability to pay might occur when the individual making the payments has a significant increase or decrease in the ability to pay. Note that a change in income by itself does not guarantee an alteration to a spousal support award.
Our Oakland County Family Law Team Can Help
Divorce is always a difficult process, and spousal support orders only add to the complications. There is so much at stake in divorce, especially when considering property division, alimony, and other family law issues. You should not try to deal with a spousal support order on your own. You should hire a skilled attorney to advocate on your behalf to help you come to a fair arrangement. A fair arrangement will take into account all of the facts and circumstances in your case including the alimony, child support, property settlement, incomes and so on.
Our Oakland County family law attorneys have decades of experience helping others in their divorce cases, and we are ready to help you too. Call our Oakland County office today to get the help you need and deserve.
Call us for a phone consultation or set up an in-office meeting. We are conveniently located at 30300 Northwestern Highway. That’s located in the Gem Building near 13 Miles and Northwestern. Office meetings are by appointment only.