Spousal Support as Awarded by the Court – Law Update

The Court’s Authority Regarding Spousal Support Awards is Re-Affirmed and Confined

Summary: A trial court does not have the authority to award support for a term of years, rather any award for support by the Court remains modifiable in duration and amount, even if a term is specified.

Spousal Support (a/k/a “Alimony”) is a concerning topic for parties who are seeking a divorce. Spousal support is determined based on various factors, such as the parties past relations and conduct, length of the marriage, ability to work, source and amount of property awarded to the parties, age, ability to pay spousal support, needs, health, prior standard of living and whether the parties support others, contributions to the joint estate, fault in causing the divorce, and general principles of fairness.

Before coming to an agreement it is important for the parties to understand the difference between modifiable and non-modifiable spousal support. The Michigan Court of Appeals (Ricahrds V. Richards, NiLW No. 07-88834, MIch. App. 2015, pending publication) recently affirmed the rule that any award for spousal support that is levied by the Court shall remain subject to the Court’s jurisdiction and thus modifiable in duration and amount and therefore an award cannot be for a term of years, unless parties agree and stipulate to such provision.

In that case parties were the same age, and married for over 30 years. At the time of the divorce Plaintiff was in good health, but had no income. In contrast, Defendant was in poor health with Parkinson’s disease but earned $22,000 monthly in disability, plus payments from his business interests.

The Trial Court ordered Defendant to make monthly spousal support payments for a six-year term to Plaintiff, but the language in the Judgment of Divorce was unclear whether the spousal support was modifiable or whether the payments would cease after the six-year term. On Appeal, the Court determined that the six-year term for spousal support was not an abuse of the Trial Court’s discretion, but the Trial Court did err by awarding spousal support for a fixed-time period.

If parties are unable to agree on spousal support, the Court may decide how much, if any, will be awarded.  In the case described above, the Michigan Court of Appeals determined that when a Trial Court awards spousal support it does so with continuing jurisdiction. This means spousal support may continue indefinitely, or modified with the Court any time after the Judgment of Divorce is entered.  Where the parties settle out of Court on the issue of spousal support, the parties may stipulate to a non-modifiable fixed-time period for spousal support payments. Thus, after this fixed-time period has ended the parties’ obligation to pay spousal support is also complete.

Spousal support is only one part of property division in a Divorce, and must be handled with care. If you or someone you know is considering a divorce it is important to consult with an attorney.



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