Spousal support (sometimes referred to as alimony) is often one of the most controversial aspects of family law, because every situation is different. The duration, structure, amount, enforceability and modification can differ dramatically, which is why our attorneys take time to analyze the facts of each case, educate the client on the current state of the law, and ensure that irrespective of whether we represent the potential payor or payee of support, that the provisions for spousal support are fair.
Michigan case law sets forth 11 factors to be analyzed in determining on a case-by-case basis, whether or not spousal support should be awarded and the amount and length of time it should be paid. Not only do the factors closely parallel those used for the distribution of marital property, as discussed elsewhere in these materials, the court can place more weight on some factors, than is does on others, to come up with a fair result. Those factors are:
A persons’ age, mental and physical health, present ability to work, useful educational accomplishments and current work situation, all have a bearing on whether a spouse should be paid spousal support. Also relevant is whether or not it is a long term marriage, and how much each will be getting in property that can be used to help support themselves. Both parties need to be able to survive financially: ideally at the prior standard of living to which they were accustomed. Whether that obligates one to help support the other, and for how long, depends on how long the marriage has lasted and whether the person being asked to pay the spousal support, or the person requesting it, had a significant role in causing their marriage to break down in the first place. This is referred to as “fault.” As discussed in the section of Property Division, these factors are interrelated, and must be looked at as a whole to come up with something that is fair and equitable.
There are no fast and hard formulas that are statutorily mandated to determine spousal support. Obviously, how much one party actually needs to keep up their accustomed standard of living, is considered in relationship to how much the other party should reasonably be able to contribute. There are several mathematical formulas which may give the parties and the court guidance on the issue, and we use the two methods most respected by Michigan’s courts. None of these “formulas” are binding on the court. That is where experience in Family Law is necessary. Spousal support can range from short-term rehabilitative support to permanent, life time support. Spousal support often (but not always) ends on retirement, when neither party is working and the parties begin sharing in pension benefits. Generally speaking, short-term or rehabilitative spousal support, is set for a number of months or years, to allow the recipient a chance to obtain or complete an education or to obtain gainful employment and make the transition to self-support. On the other hand, spousal support can be ordered to go on indefinitely, until the court decides to do otherwise.
Spousal support is generally taxable to the recipient and deductible to the payer, so it is important to discuss this with your financial advisor or a certified public accountant.