Michigan Spousal Support Laws
In every Michigan divorce, the lower-earning party has the right to ask for an award of spousal support from the higher-earning party.
For decades, the awarding of support was referred to as “alimony.” However more recently, the term “spousal support” has come into vogue. In any event, these two terms are interchangeable and mean the same thing.
A Michigan court has broad discretion to consider a multitude of factors when deciding whether the higher-earning party will be paying spousal support to the lower-earning party. Some of the factors that the court may consider are as follows:
- How long have the parties been married?
- Is each party physically able to work?
- What are the specific incomes of each party?
- How old is each party?
- What is the educational/vocational training of each party?
- What will each party’s monthly budget look like post-divorce?
- Does one or both of the parties have specific health issues?
- What award of property will each party be receiving upon entry of the judgment of divorce?
- Will the higher-earning party have the ability to pay support to the lower-earning party?
- What is the standard of living that the parties have enjoyed during the course of the marriage?
- What role has conduct or fault played during the course of the marriage?
The last issue, that of conduct or fault, can be of particular importance. In most cases, one or both of the parties has engaged in unseemly conduct leading up to the finalization of a divorce. Most courts are going to have an expectation that one or both of the parties have not been angels. Therefore in most cases, less than admirable conduct would play little or no role in influencing the court’s decision regarding an award of spousal support. However, more egregious conduct can very much influence the court’s decision regarding spousal support. For instance, if one party has been verbally and psychologically abusive (but not violent), a court may not be particularly influenced by such conduct when deciding upon an award of spousal support.
The main factor that courts will look to is a loose equalization formula. If the higher-earning party earns $150,000/yr. and the lower-earning party has been a stay-at-home mother, then almost certainly, there will be an award of spousal support that will pull the mother’s income upwards and the father’s income downwards. This is also true in situations where both parties are working outside the home, but one party earns significantly more than the other party.
In Michigan, the awarding of spousal support is more subjective than the awarding of child support. For instance in Michigan, child support is computed by the use of a specific formula that is published by the State of Michigan. Therefore, there is really not a lot that one party can do to get the court to deviate from the child support formula. The numbers are keyed into the formula and the child support amount is produced. Most family law attorneys and the courts themselves subscribe to a software service that contains the formula. Therefore, a family law attorney should be able to provide a very accurate estimate of what child support will look like upon judgment of divorce.
The formulating of spousal support is much more subjective than the formulating of child support. Like child support, most family law attorneys will subscribe to a software service that uses a formula to produce a proposed spousal support amount and term. However, unlike child support, a Michigan family law judge is not necessarily obliged to follow the software’s suggested amount of support. Family law judges will frequently look at the suggested amount and then take into account some or all of the factors listed above. In most cases, even after considering the above-described factors, the family law judge will issue an award of spousal support that is very near to that which the software suggested. There are cases where a judge may deviate significantly from what the software suggested. Each judge has their own subjective methodologies that they employ in the awarding of spousal support. An experienced family law attorney should be familiar with your particular judge’s methodologies and viewpoints. Therefore, unlike child support, advising a party of an accurate estimate of spousal support at the inception of a divorce case is tricky. However, as your case develops, a qualified family law attorney should then be able to zero-in on a more accurate estimate.
Always keep in mind that the awarding of spousal support is an equalization of income. In essence, the court is chopping one party’s income down and raising up the other party’s income. As such, an award of spousal support becomes a taxable event for the receiving party and a tax-deductible event for the paying party. For instance, if the higher-earning party earns $124,000/yr. and is ordered to pay the lower-earning party $2,000/mo., then come tax time, the higher-earning party will declare that they have earned $100,000 that year ($124,000 gross income minus $24,000 of spousal support paid). Conversely, if the lower-earning party had employment that pays them $24,000/yr. and then receives an additional $2,000/mo. in spousal support, come tax time, they will declare an income of $48,000 ($24,000 gross income plus $24,000 of spousal support received).
Naturally, the party that is ordered to pay spousal support is, to say the least, not happy about such an order. Sometimes the paying party will say, “Well, I’m just going to file for bankruptcy.” In virtually every instance, bankruptcy will not alleviate the paying party of their responsibility to pay spousal support.
Alimony in Michigan
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