In Michigan (and many other states), there are well-known child support guidelines that provide a uniform system of calculating, in precise dollar terms, the amount of child support the paying parent will owe. Either parent can plug in each parent's income, expenses, and so on, and the Michigan Child Support Guidelines will generate a figure that will be a reliable indicator of what the court will award.
However, this isn't the case for spousal support. In deciding whether to award spousal support (alimony) and in what amount, the court must consider a number of factors. This article explains how courts make these decisions. For more information on Michigan divorce law, see our Michigan Divorce and Family Law page.
No Guidelines for Spousal Support
Frequently, clients wish to know the “guidelines” for the spousal support they may owe or be owed. In Michigan, there is no one-size-fits-all rule or formula for spousal support (sometimes called by its former name, “alimony”). In fact, the Michigan Court of Appeals recently issued a decision -- Myland v. Myland -- making it clear that spousal support decisions must be based on a case by case basis. In the Myland case, the court overturned the spousal support decision of a trial court, which used its own “rigid” mathematical formula to determine the amount of spousal support to be paid to the former wife. In its opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals made it clear that there is no simple rule for determining spousal support. Instead, each trial court must carefully weigh the parties’ actual needs and resources, their future prospects, and their abilities to earn.
Spousal Support Factors
The court may award spousal support if the property award is insufficient to support one spouse (and any children living with that spouse). The court must consider all relevant factors in deciding whether to award support, including the ability of the other spouse to pay.
The main factors that often will enter into a spousal support determination are:
- how long the marriage lasted
- each spouse's age and health
- the needs of each spouse
- each spouse's ability to work
- the ability of the spouse from whom support is requested to pay
- each spouse's property and assets (including property awarded as part of the divorce)
- the couple's standard of living when married
- whether either spouse was at fault in the breakdown of the marriage, and
- general principles of fairness and equity.