Spousal support, also called alimony, is a sum of money usually paid by one spouse to another spouse for the support and maintenance of the spouse.
There are a number of factors that go into calculating spousal support. Your divorce attorney’s job is to ensure that you get an equitable support payment each month to help support you as you continue post-divorce life and care for your children.
To learn more about alimony and how it relates to your situation, contact a Detroit alimony attorney at Sumner & Associates, P.C. today.
How Does Spousal Support Work?
The court can order spousal support regardless of whether or not the couple had children. In most cases, spousal support acts a stipend to be paid out over an indefinite period of time and revisited on occasion. The idea behind spousal support is that one spouse, who may not have the same earning power or financial prospects of another spouse, should not be left in the lurch simply because the couple has split up.
Unlike child support, there is no specific formula to calculate spousal support. Spousal support can be ordered even if one spouse is already receiving child support.
How is Spousal Support Negotiated?
Spousal support arrangements can either be entered by mutual agreement of both parties or by order of the court. When the two parties come to an agreement regarding spousal support, it’s generally part of an ongoing divorce negotiation that may impact property distribution.
In Michigan, property accrued during a marriage is part of the overall marital estate while property owned prior to the marriage belongs to one or the other individual. However, this can get complicated in cases where an asset, business, or real estate has accrued significant value during the marriage. If one spouse sees a business venture take off, the value that the business accrued during the marriage is considered part of the marital estate, while the value of the business before the marriage is considered the sole property of one spouse. In cases where one spouse doesn’t want to split ownership of a business or asset, the value that is part of the marital estate can be divided in other ways. This includes spousal support payments.
What Factors the Court Considers When Determining Spousal Support
If the two spouses cannot come to an amicable agreement regarding asset division or spousal support, then the court will be forced to make the decision for them. The court considers numerous factors when determining what a fair spousal support payment would look like in the wake of a divorce. These include:
- Past relations and conduct of the parties (fault)
- Length of the marriage
- Ability of the parties to work and their respective incomes
- Source and amount of property awarded to the parties
- Ability of the parties to pay spousal support
- Present situation of the parties
- Needs of the parties
- Health of the parties
- Prior standard of living of the parties and whether either is responsible for the support of others
- Age and educational level of the person claiming spousal support
Generally, judgments of divorce in which spousal support is not granted must either:
- expressly reserve the question of spousal support or
- rule that neither party is entitled to spousal support.
Regular or periodic spousal support or rule that neither party is entitled to spousal support. Regular or periodic spousal support clauses in the judgment of divorce are modifiable at any time. When limitations are placed in the judgment regarding modification, it is questionable whether or not these limitations will be honored by the court. Spousal support may be increased, decreased, or canceled. A modification is based on a showing of a change in circumstances that warrants the modification.
Prenuptial Agreements and Spousal Support
Prenuptial agreements can impact spousal support payments. The single caveat is that no spouse could enter into an agreement that is deemed unconscionable by the court. Legally, this means that neither spouse could waive the right to spousal support payments or by contract, prevent the other spouse from being awarded spousal support.
If there is language in the prenuptial agreement concerning spousal support, the court will rule on whether or not the language is fair and reasonable given the circumstances. The agreement must be:
- Fair, equitable, or reasonable;
- Entered into voluntarily with full disclosure; and
- Free of fraud, consensual, and void of undue influence.
Additionally, if the material circumstances of one or both spouses has changed substantially since the agreement was entered into, then the court can nullify the prenuptial agreement.
Essentially, just because one spouse signed a prenuptial agreement doesn’t mean that the order is enforceable by the court or that the court will be willing to enforce the order. A judgment will need to be made as to whether or not the prenuptial agreement is fair given the current circumstances of both spouses.
The court may be wary about enforcing a prenuptial agreement when one or both spouses neglected to share their financial information with one another prior to signing the agreement. If one spouse purposefully hid assets from the other spouse, the court will likely nullify the prenuptial altogether (that’s fraud).
Understanding Fault in a No-Fault Divorce State
Michigan is purely a no-fault divorce state. That means that spouses cannot pursue a fault-based divorce in the state, but that does not mean that their conduct during the marriage doesn’t affect the outcome of the divorce.
In cases where there has been infidelity, abuse, or abandonment, the court may see fit to award added damages to one party in the form of asset distribution or spousal support. Conduct still matters in Michigan. If one party behaved badly toward their spouse in their marriage, the court will see fit to make sure the other spouse is compensated for their conduct.
Types of Alimony in Michigan
Generally speaking, alimony payments can be broken down into three discrete categories. These are:
- Lump Sum, and
Permanent or periodic alimony may be paid indefinitely over the course of several years until a less financially secure spouse gets back on his or her feet. If one spouse is expected to devote their time to raising the children, which can easily become a full-time job, alimony may be tied into child support. For obvious reasons, a spouse who cannot work due to child-care duties is one that requires the financial support of the other spouse.
In these situations, the spouses will decide in the divorce decree what factors will trigger the revisiting of the spousal support arrangement. In other words, if one spouse only needs a year or two to brush up on their skills and gain employment, the payment of spousal support may be contingent upon them securing a new job. There may also be a time limit on how long the spouse must pay alimony.
The court will either order that the spouse pay alimony in a lump sum or in periodic payments. It can be conditional, temporary, or indefinite (permanent).
Spousal Support and Taxes
The law recently changed regarding spousal support payments. Prior to January 1, 2019, those who paid child support (payers) could write the payments off on their taxes and the payee (the individual receiving spousal support) would have to pay taxes on the payments. This remains the case for any spousal support order enacted prior to January 1, 2019.
Spousal support orders entered into after January 1, 2019 cannot be written off on the payer’s taxes. Likewise, spousal support no longer counts as taxable income for the payee.
Spousal Support Laws in Michigan
The litmus that the court uses to determine spousal support is “proper and necessary”. In other words, the court will decide on a “proper and necessary” payment of one spouse to the other for a period of time. In addition, the individual divorcees can decide on these during the divorce. The court will look over the agreement. But it will generally not change an agreement that has been voluntarily accepted by both parties. The same cannot be said for child support. The court will take a much closer look at child support arrangements to ensure that the children are being properly cared for.
Modifying a Spousal Support Payment in Michigan
Permanent or indefinite spousal support payments remain in effect until one or both parties either dies or remarries. That does not, however, mean that they can’t be modified or canceled during that period. One or the other party can petition the court to either increase or reduce spousal support payments depending on the situation. The individual will need to supply the court with some good reason for changing the current arrangement.
For instance, one party seeking a reduction of their child support payments may petition the court on the basis of:
- a job loss,
- a lawsuit, or
- an illness.
These are all factors that might reduce their overall income.
The other party may petition the court for more money based on:
- added expenses or
- a change in their current financial situation.
Spousal Support, Your Taxes, and Other Considerations
Regular or periodic spousal support is usually taxable to the recipient and is deductible by the payer. The phrase “payment until death” must be part of the spousal support clause in order for it to be considered as taxable spousal support. This type of spousal support is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Qualifying clauses such as “payable until remarriage” may be included.
Spousal support is usually paid through the office of the Friend of the Court. This enables a party to obtain an accurate record of these payments. Also, it makes it easier to request assistance from the Friend of the Court. This is in the event that payments are not forthcoming or a spouse denies receiving payments.
An order usually institutes the enforcement of regular or periodic spousal support payments to show cause. Your alimony attorney can explain the procedure to you.
Contact a Detroit Alimony Attorney Today!
The outcome of your divorce will rest heavily on the quality of your divorce attorney. Sometimes, spouses that require spousal support for their exes don’t fight hard enough to get the amount that they’re entitled to. Sumner & Associates P.C. specializes in getting fair spousal support settlements for our clients and enforcing those settlements.
In some cases, the court requires one spouse to pay the other spousal support. But the other spouse refuses to make good on the order. If this happens, we can ensure that the court is aware of your ex’s unwillingness to satisfy their end of the bargain. The court can then enforce the spousal support order against them.
If you need to negotiate a fair spousal support settlement in your divorce or you need to fight for the money that you’ve been awarded, contact Sumner & Associates P.C. as soon as possible.