A request for alimony or spousal support can quickly become a highly contentious issue that is not easily settled. Parties typically approach this issue from diametrically-opposed viewpoints that require the intervention of a mediator or judge in order to obtain a resolution. For spouses with little property or low income levels for whom alimony is the only way to realistically support themselves, making the decision to file for divorce can be very difficult. Conversely, the spouse required to make a support payment might have legitimate reasons to challenge his or her presumed ability to pay or the payee’s actual need for the financial assistance.
An article in the Detroit Free Press highlights how requests for spousal support in a divorce petition can significantly shape how the parties proceed. The wife of United States Representative John Conyers filed for divorce this fall after 25 years of marriage and asked that her husband pay spousal support and attorney fees. While Rep. Conyers agreed that the marriage was damaged beyond repair, he expected an equitable property division would be sufficient to support his wife, provided she gave full disclosure of her property holdings. Alimony law in Michigan is a complex issue and will be outlined below to aid those contemplating or currently seeking divorce.
Getting Awarded Spousal Support
Spousal support is part of the property division in a divorce and one party may become obligated to pay it through an agreement between the spouses or a court order. It is important to note that if the court makes a determination that spousal support is warranted, there are no hard and fast rules about amount or duration under Michigan law. Each spousal support decision is determined on a case-by-case basis and is dependent upon whether the property division would leave one spouse with insufficient financial support and/or the divorce leaves one spouse in a significantly worse position to have the ability to maintain the life style to which they have become accustomed to.
Assuming spousal support is granted, the court will issue a Uniform Spousal Support Order that sets out how much support will be, the period of time it will last, and the method of payment. The parties can agree to language in the final divorce decree which prohibits modification of the spousal support order, but if the Court issues a ruling that spousal support shall be granted, either party can request a change if a change in circumstances arises.
Factors Used to Make the Decision
When a judge is contemplating whether to issue spousal support, there are a number of factors that are generally used to determine if such support is warranted. Some of these factors include:
- Whether the parties engaged in acts during the marriage that contributed to its breakdown;
- The length of the marriage, with longer marriages more likely to see alimony awarded;
- The ability of each spouse to work;
- The ages of the parties;
- The ability each spouse to pay support;
- How much property each party will receive in the divorce; and
- The health of each spouse.
Types of Spousal Support
Spousal support can be temporary or permanent and can be paid as a lump sum or periodically.
Temporary alimony is paid for set period of time or until occurrence of an event. It is typically awarded when the receiving party needs time to obtain education or employment training to find a job.
Permanent alimony is normally seen in long-term marriages where one spouse never worked, or has been removed from the work force for a substantial period of time, and is at an age where finding employment is unlikely. Although this is called permanent alimony, it could still be set to end upon the retirement of the paying party or the remarriage of the party receiving the payments.
When all the alimony is paid at once that is called a lump sum payment and will be the only money the other spouse receives. Periodic payments are made over time, usually monthly or annually.
Hire a Michigan Divorce Lawyer
If spousal support is an issue in your divorce, it is important to work with an experienced divorce attorney as a court’s ruling as to support is based on a fact-specific analysis that can vary from case to case. The law firm of Iafrate & Salassa, P.C. in Clinton Township offers legal representation on this issue of alimony/spousal support and will work to represent your best interests. Contact them to schedule a free consultation.