Michigan Spousal Support and Alimony

Michigan is a “no-fault” divorce state. The “no-fault” designation applies to the ability to obtain a divorce. In other words, a couple may get a divorce in Michigan without proving one of them did something wrong. Couples must state that there has been a breakdown of the marriage and there’s no reasonable likelihood that you and your spouse will get back together Mich. Comp. Laws 552.6 (2019). Even though fault may not be assigned in regards to the actual ability to obtain a divorce, some judges may consider fault when deciding spousal support or alimony payments.

Types of Spousal Support and Alimony

Spousal support and alimony payments basically mean the same thing. Michigan offers four types of spousal support:

  • Temporary – As the name implies, this kind of support does not last forever. An example would be one party making the house payment and paying utility bills while the divorce process is on-going. This may end when the divorce is final. However, some temporary payments may continue after the divorce is final when there is a large discrepancy in income. In other words, if one spouse has a very large income and the other one does not, a judge may write a new order to cover costs for long term assistance.
  • Periodic – This time of financial assistance may be granted to allow one spouse to obtain education or training. Perhaps, one spouse was out of the workforce to raise children, or care for elderly parents. During this time, the other spouse was free to build a career, or go to college. The Judge may grant a periodic support order to assist the spouse that needs help to become independent.
  • Permanent Support – This type of support may be granted in cases where there is no prenuptial agreement and one party requires financial assistance. Many times these are long term marriages, or situations where there is considerable wealth.
  • Lump Sum Payment – In this situation, one spouse agrees to accept property, retirement benefits, cash, stock, or other monetary goods as a one-time payment. This is a rare occurrence.

How Spousal Support is Determined

Top portion of a Michigan Uniform Spousal Support Order on top of a yellow folder next to a pen

The party who files for the divorce is known as the plaintiff, and this person cannot state any other reason than the above requirement as a grounds for a divorce. The plaintiff cannot provide anymore detail of why they are requesting the divorce. The defendant is the other spouse, and this party may either admit or deny the allegations of the plaintiff. Even if the defendant admits to the plaintiff’s claim, a divorce judgment in Michigan may not be entered until evidence is presented in open court that there has been a breakdown in the marriage relationship. A divorce ends a valid marriage in Michigan.

For a court to issue a Michigan divorce judgment, it must have jurisdiction over the two parties, and the residency requirements must be met, which are listed in MCL 552.9(1), which states,

(1) A judgment of divorce shall not be granted by a court in this state in an action for divorce unless the complainant or defendant has resided in this state for 180 days immediately preceding the filing of the complaint and, except as otherwise provided in subsection (2), the complainant or defendant has resided in the county in which the complaint is filed for 10 days immediately preceding the filing of the complaint.

(2) A person may file a complaint for divorce in any county in the state without meeting the 10-day requirement set forth in subsection (1) if all of the following apply and are set forth in the complaint:

(a) The defendant was born in, or is a citizen of, a country other than the United States of America.

(b) The parties to the divorce action have a minor child or children.

(c) There is information that would allow the court to reasonably conclude that the minor child or children are at risk of being taken out of the United States of America and retained in another country by the defendant.

Factors Judges Consider

Alimony decisions are more complicated than calculating child support payments. The decisions are more complex because child support relies on a mathematical formula based on income. Alimony must look at many more factors including:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Age of the couple
  • Health of the parties
  • Assets involved
  • Previous standard of living
  • Did one spouse contribute to the divorce, or hide assets
  • Property
  • Ability to pay

How Can a Divorce Attorney Help?

The divorce process is an emotional roller-coaster. During this anxiety laden time it remains important to seek an objective, experienced attorney to guide you through the process. Your lawyer will file necessary paperwork in a timely manner and make sure you are aware of all your assets. This is particularly important if one spouse handles financial matters and the other spouse lacks access to accounts.

An experienced divorce lawyer will explain how Michigan’s laws affect you. More importantly, your attorney will protect your rights. Remember, this is not something you want to do on your own. Also, it is not advisable to “share” an attorney with your soon to be ex-spouse. In conclusion, hire an experienced family law attorney that specializes in divorce.

Frequently Asked Questions

In Michigan, rehabilitative spousal support is to help a spouse who was previously financially dependent on the other spouse transition into self-support. Rehabilitative spousal support in Michigan can be for any number of years, which the court decides is appropriate for the rehabilitation. Permanent spousal support in Michigan would continue to the death or remarriage of the spouse receiving the support.

In Michigan spousal support is determined by 11 factors:

– past relations and conduct of the parties
– the length of the marriage
– the ability for the parties’ to work
– source and property awarded to the parties
– the age of the husband and wife
– the ability of a party to pay spousal support
– the present situation of the husband and wife
– the needs of each person
– the health of each person
– the prior standard of living, and whether the parties support others (kids)
– what’s fair and equitable?

There is no exact formula like there is for child support in Michigan divorces. Here in Michigan, judges rely guidelines for spousal support, but not in the same way as child support, which is mandated as a tool for determining child support in Michigan.

Yes, a Michigan antenuptial agreement more commonly known as a prenuptial agreement is an agreement in contemplation of marriage, and Michigan courts have found them to be valid and enforceable. Spousal support provisions can be part of this agreement prior to entering a marriage. Michigan courts will generally enforce the spousal support agreement unless there has been a change in the facts and circumstances since the agreement was executed, and its enforcement would be unfair and unreasonable. It is more likely that a antenuptial agreement barring spousal support would be upheld in a short term marriage vs a long-term marriage in Michigan. The court would need to closely examine the facts and circumstances, and determine the fairness of that agreement.

Yes, fault may be considered in Michigan cases, but the court cannot assign a disproportional value to this one factor. A Michigan court must make findings on each of the above 11 factors, and the record must reflect the court’s reason for the amount of the award. The court will look to be just and reasonable under the circumstances of each individual case.

Yes, in Michigan, spousal support can be modified due to a change in the circumstances unless the parties have previously agreed that spousal support will be barred from modification This is different than child support in Michigan divorce cases, which the parties cannot make any agreements about modification.

A person receiving spousal support in Michigan will no longer be entitled to the support if they re-marry, absent an agreement between the parties. Simply living with an other adult is not considered the same as re-marriage by purposes of terminating spousal support. If the payor dies, this does not terminate the obligation to pay the other spouse; the recipient spouse is entitled to continued support from the estate of the payor spouse. It may be advisable for the recipient spouse to have a life insurance policy for continued payment if the payor spouse passes away.

In Michigan it is possible to make spousal support non-modifiable, which means no matter your current economic situation, you are under court order to pay a former amount, which may be a lot higher than you can afford. It is rarely advisable that a client agree to this arrangement as part of a Michigan divorce because of the unknown economic situation that they may face in the future.

In Michigan spousal support payments can be enforced in a number of ways. The Michigan Friend of the Court, and other statutes allow withholding income of the payor, lines on real estate and personal property, contempt proceedings and the attachment of pension plan proceeds and state licenses, like a driver’s license, law license, real estate license, fishing, hunting, and any other license sanctioned by the State of Michigan.

Alimony in gross in Michigan is a lump-sum award or installation of a definite amount of money, which is considered a property-rights payment, payable over a period of time from one spouse to the other. This is different than regular Michigan spousal support, which is periodic, and not necessarily a definite amount. Alimony in gross cannot be modified, but periodic spousal support in Michigan cases can be modified.

No, spousal support in Michigan divorce cases is only one part of the divorce. A spouse may be entitled to a property settlement, child support, a share of retirement pensions 401k, attorney fees, along with a long list of other possibilities as part of a Michigan divorce.

Michigan spousal support can make a major impact on federal and state income tax. The person receiving spousal support is considered the recipient, and taxable as income. The person paying the spousal support in Michigan is the payor, and this is deductible from their taxes.

Spousal support in Michigan is decided on a case-by-case basis, but it may be possible to avoid spousal support. A spouse who is unwilling to pay spousal support to a former spouse, may instead be willing to agree to giving up a larger share of the property settlement or other economic considerations.