Monday, March 9, 2015

Spousal Support in Michigan, a Q &A primer

Q: What is Spousal Support?

A: Spousal support is an amount of money that is paid from one spouse to another, or to an ex-spouse, because of a divorce or pending divorce.

It used to be called "Alimony."
Also, traditionally, it was paid from the husband to his ex-wife. That is no longer the case, as either spouse may be ordered to pay.

Q: When is spousal support ordered? 
A: It depends. Spousal support is not a "given" in the majority of cases. A judge considering spousal support will look at many factors. However, if the parties have minor children, the obligation of the parents to pay child support will come before any spousal support obligation.

Some of the factors of spousal support include: the need of one party to receive, the ability of the other party to pay, the ages of the parties, the length of the marriage, the health of the parties, the past relations and conduct of the parties (fault of the marriage breakdown can be part of this factor), present situation of the parties, responsibility for the support of others, and general principles of equity.

 Q: What kinds of spousal support are available? 
A: Support can be temporary, or permanent. Either type of support can be modifiable.

Temporary spousal support (also called rehabilitative support) can be ordered while a divorce is pending, and past the entry of the divorce. Temporary support is intended to help one party "get on their own two feet." In other words, it is intended to help get that spouse independent of the other spouse.

Temporary support has a timeline (for example, 18 months after entry of judgment) and after that point it is not ordered, unless it can be shown that circumstances warrant continuance.

Permanent spousal support has been found appropriate where there has been a long term marriage with a spouse who has no marketable skills, or one spouse with superior earnings and the other spouse with questionable earning capacity, or a great discrepancy between the incomes of the spouses and a wife who devoted most of her adult life to the "homemaker" role, or where there is a serious doubt that one spouse could support him or herself because of a disability.

Permanent spousal support generally continues until death or remarriage of the party.

Q: How is spousal support enforced? 
A: It is enforced through various ways, like income witholding, liens, contempt (show cause), license suspensions, and interception of tax refunds.

Q: How is spousal support modified?
A; It is modified when one party requests the court for a modification. Unlike child support, no minimum time needs to pass before a modification request can be made. If the court has jurisdiction over the payor at the time of the order, the court will continue to have jurisdiction over a modification.

The person requesting modification has to be able to show, through new facts or changed circumstances, that a change is warranted. The person requesting the change has to show this through a preponderance of evidence.

Factors that will justify a modification include: remarriage, cohabitation, change in needs, change in the ability to pay, retirement of a party, or death of the payor.


  1. Thanks for your comment. The factors are used in whether it will be paid. After that determination is made, a calculation is made that's similar to the one used for Child support. Your attorney most likely has a software package that can help with the calculation, so see him or her for that estimate. Remember that courts have a lot of discretion on this issue, so it's not a "given" in many divorces.