Alimony is officially known as spousal support in Michigan, although they are often used interchangeably. Spousal support is often one of the most contentious areas in a divorce.
That’s why it’s so important for you to understand:
- Who is entitled to spousal support in Michigan
- The types of alimony available in Michigan
- The difference between modifiable and non-modifiable alimony
- The factors a judge considers when deciding spousal support
- How modifying or terminating spousal support works
- How courts enforce alimony payments
- How spousal support is taxed
- Answers to lots more Michigan spousal support FAQs
Who is Entitled to Spousal Support in Michigan?
Spousal support is gender neutral in Michigan, meaning that men and women
can petition the court for alimony.
The primary test for support requires the requesting spouse to demonstrate a financial need and that the other party can afford to pay.
No person is technically “entitled” to Michigan alimony. They are entitled to petition the court if they meet this essential requirement. Courts have broad discretion on a case-by-case basis in deciding who does or does not receive alimony in Michigan. The amount, frequency, and duration of support will depend on your case.
Also, it’s a common misconception that parties must be married for several years before the court will award support. While it’s more likely for a judge to award support for a long-term marriage, for couples married for any period, the court will award alimony if a party qualifies.
Types of Support Available in Michigan
Michigan has four types of spousal support:
Temporary Spousal Support
Temporary support is only available when a Michigan divorce is in progress. It is paid when a spouse can’t provide financial support for themselves before a divorce is final, and another alimony award may likely be issued.
Either party can request temporary support when filing for divorce, but the court will only award it if appropriate.
Sometimes courts refer to temporary support as “status quo” payments. If the other spouse has always paid the mortgage, utility bills, and car payments, the court may order that spouse to continue making those payments throughout the divorce process. The court can award temporary support in addition to the status quo payments if there’s a need and a significant discrepancy in income.
Periodic Spousal Support
Periodic support is the most common type of Michigan alimony. It can be awarded for a short term (sometimes referred to as rehabilitative support) or for a more extended period.
This support is common in cases where one spouse can be self-supporting, but not immediately. It is often awarded when one spouse gives up a career to raise a family or support the other’s career. The award gives the recipient time to develop job skills or finish a degree to help that spouse become financially independent through gainful employment.
Permanent Spousal Support
Permanent support is reserved for cases where the parties were married for an extended period, and the recipient spouse cannot become financially independent due to age, health, or disability.
Lump Sum Spousal Support
Lump-sum support is rare. It is awarded in cases where one spouse can afford to pay the entire support award in one payment. Lump-sum payments are not always made in cash and often include a personal property award, or real property is awarded instead of money.
Some people prefer this approach, so there are no continuing financial obligations to make weekly, monthly, or annual payments to an ex-spouse.
What is the Difference Between Modifiable and Mon-modifiable Michigan Alimony?
If you go to trial and spousal support is awarded in Michigan, it can always be modified. The spousal support award can be modified when a party has a significant change in circumstances.
In instances where the parties agree on a settlement, if they specifically build in a clause that says an alimony award is non-modifiable, this will be a binding agreement. Courts are required to uphold this agreement which is often made by parties who want long-term clarity in their finances regarding spousal support.
What Factors Are Used to Determine Spousal Support?
Michigan uses general principles and guidelines regarding alimony. There is no formula or alimony calculator. Judges have broad discretion within certain statutory boundaries, including factors they must consider when determining duration and amount.
Those spousal support factors may include, but are not limited to:
- Cohabitation. Cohabitation affects a potential spousal support recipient in some cases, which means alimony may not be applicable.
- Each spouse’s ability to find employment outside of the home. Spousal support may be applicable where one party worked inside the home raising children for much of the marriage, making a return to the workforce more challenging.
- Fairness. Is the payment or receipt of spousal support fair to maintain a reasonable marital standard?
- How long was the marriage? Typically, the longer the marriage, the longer the spousal support might be, but there are no hard and fast rules on this.
- If you have others to support. If you are the full-time caregiver for an elderly parent or a disabled child, that may severely restrict your ability to work outside the home and financially support yourself or pay alimony to the recipient spouse.
- The ability of a spouse to pay support.
- The equitable distribution of marital assets and liabilities. Sometimes the amount of liquid assets a party receives can play a factor in spousal support. Michigan allows for “alimony buyouts,” where an amount of cash or other liquid assets are given to them from the party’s assets instead.
- Debts. If one party agrees to take on a series of the parties’ debts in exchange for spousal support, this can also be factored into Michigan alimony.
- The role each spouse played in the marriage. While not as common as it used to be, there are still cases where one person works “outside the home” earning a paycheck, and one works “inside the home” caring for the children. Courts recognize that both parties “worked” and contributed to the marriage in cases like these.
- Spouse’s ages. As people get older, job prospects usually become more limited, meaning you may be more likely to need spousal support.
- Current living situations. If one of you is currently not working but could do so and earn a salary that would no longer make spousal support necessary, that can be a factor in determining alimony.
- Spousal health. If both of you are healthy enough to return to work and earn a comparable income, spousal support may not be applicable.
- Marital lifestyle. If no spousal support was paid, and one party is enjoying a similar lifestyle that they enjoyed during the marriage while the other party lives far below the marital lifestyle, spousal support could be applicable.
- A spouse’s individual needs. Alimony is typically based on need. If one party is earning more than the other party, and there is a significant enough disparity in their incomes, spousal support is worth exploring.
In Michigan, each case for spousal support depends upon the unique factors and the judge assigned to the case. In other words, a judge can also use other factors when calculating alimony to stabilize a financial situation if appropriate.
One last thing to note is that when deciding alimony in Michigan, judges consider custodial status when figuring out alimony payments. Alimony calculations can be affected by whether or not the receiving spouse has custody of the children. When this is the case, custodial spouses may receive higher alimony payments.
Read More: How Much Does Divorce Cost?
Modifying or Terminating Spousal Support
If your alimony award or your divorce allows it, you can request a modification of your original award.
When spousal support is modifiable, a spouse’s request must show there has been a significant change of circumstances and has to show evidence of the change that is impacting a present situation. Significant changes can include a specific event such as losing a home or job, severe or chronic illness, or unexpected major expenses. Other changes can include if the recipient spouse is cohabiting with a new partner or if fraud and unilateral mistakes were made when awarding the original support order.
The obligation to pay alimony ends when either party dies, the stated duration expires, or when the person receiving alimony remarries unless you’ve agreed to other terms in your divorce.
Read More: Uncontested Divorce in Michigan
Enforcing Michigan Alimony Awards
Under Michigan alimony laws, several enforcement options are available if a spouse cannot or will not pay alimony according to the terms of the award. Some of these include:
- Income withholding to collect both current and past-due support (arrearages). All new and modified child support orders must include income wage garnishment unless both parents and the court agree on other payment methods.
- A federal and state tax refund offset can be ordered for the amount of past-due support when it reaches a certain level of either $150 or $500.
- Show Cause/Bench Warrant can be issued ordering a person who has not paid support to appear before the court to explain why they should not be held in contempt. This is called a show cause hearing. Not appearing at this hearing will result in the judge issuing a bench warrant for the person who skipped out.
- A lien or levy can initiate a lien/levy against real or personal property, financial assets, or insurance claims for alimony collection.
- Driver’s licenses, recreational or sporting licenses (hunting, fishing, etc.), and professional licenses can be denied, suspended, or revoked if a party is behind more than two months in payments.
- Adverse reporting to credit agencies.
- A passport may be denied or revoked when the past-due threshold reaches $2,500.
- A judge may order a surcharge to be added to a case with arrearages.
A judge can refer the case to the county prosecutor, who may charge the person who owes support with the crime of felony non-support. This can result in jail time in some cases.
Spousal Support and Taxes
Due to recent changes in Federal laws, the payer cannot deduct alimony or separate maintenance payments under a divorce or separation instrument executed after 2018. These payments are also not included as taxable income for recipients.
The same is true of alimony paid under a divorce or separation instrument executed before 2019 and modified after 2018 if the modification expressly states that the alimony isn’t deductible to the payor spouse or included in the income of the recipient spouse.
Taxpayers paying alimony under a divorce agreement executed before 2019 can deduct those payments from taxes when the following criteria are met:
- The recipient must be a spouse or former spouse
- There must be a written divorce or separation instrument
- Alimony must be made with cash payments (such as checks and money orders)
- Alimony does not continue after the recipient dies
- The parties must live apart, residing in different households
- The parties must file separate tax returns (they cannot file a joint return and claim the alimony deduction)
- The court-ordered payment of alimony cannot state that payments are not deductible
Michigan Spousal Support FAQs
What is a Uniform Spousal Support Order (USSO)?
When spousal support is awarded, the judge enters a special order called a Uniform Spousal Support Order (USSO). The USSO details the terms of the spousal support award, including how much, for how long, and how payments are made.
What is a Michigan Friend of the Court?
Michigan has a family court called Friend of the Court (FOC) that monitors child support and alimony payments. Typically, along with the final divorce judgment, the court will issue income withholding orders to the paying spouse’s employer.
Support orders are court orders, meaning you must follow the terms or risk penalties. If the paying spouse stops making payments, the recipient can file a motion for contempt with the FOC asking for assistance. If the FOC finds that a party is violating the order, it can set a hearing for the paying spouse to appear in front of the judge to explain non-payment.
In cases with no minor children or domestic violence, couples can opt out of FOC services and make arrangements to send and receive payments. The downside if you opt-out is that you may find it more difficult to enforce the judgment later.
How Long do you have to be married to collect support?
There is no specific number of years that you must be in a marriage to receive spousal support payments in Michigan. However, the longer the marriage length, the longer the duration of the alimony award.
According to Michigan divorce laws, it’s entirely up to a judge to decide how you will pay spousal support based on the legal framework they must use.
How Long Do I Pay Spousal Support?
It varies depending on what the award states. Judges have a lot of leeway in determining amounts and duration, and this can result in payments that may last only a few months or could last for the balance of a spouse’s lifetime.