In many divorce cases, the issue of whether one of the parties is entitled to an award of spousal support / alimony arises. If it appears that the trial court might grant a request for alimony, the next question is: "How long might that alimony award last?" Part of the answer to those questions is: "The trial court's decision is dependent upon the specific facts of your case."
In Michigan, appellate court decisions establish that trial courts will apply 11 factors when deciding whether spousal support should be awarded and the amount of such an award. These factors are:
- the parties’ past relations and conduct,
- the length of the marriage,
- the parties’ ability to work,
- the source and amount of property awarded to the parties,
- the parties’ ages,
- the ability to pay spousal support,
- the parties’ present situation,
- the parties’ needs,
- the parties’ health,
- the prior standard of living of the parties and whether the parties support others, and
- general principles of equity.
I caution clients that if they want to remain in control of such an important issue, then they are going to need to be reasonable, be flexible, and be conciliatory. If the payor spouse wants to limit the number of years during which he or she will pay support to the other spouse, then settlement is the best approach. If a judge orders spousal support, the award will be modifiable. If the parties settle this issue properly, a binding waiver will be available to secure the parties' agreement.
All spousal support awards are capable of being reduced to a "present value." That means that one must determine this: "What is the sum of money that, if paid in a lump sum today would, if properly invested, yield X dollars per month for X number of years?"
I encourage folks to consider a lump sum payment together with a legally sufficient waiver of future claims. Another possibility, one that could be appropriate under certain circumstances, might be the purchase of an annuity that pays out X dollars monthly for X number of years. Either way, it's essential that the parties both agree in a divorce settlement agreement to a complete and enforceable waiver of all future claims for spousal support.
To assess the potential for a spousal support award, you may wish to see how the Michigan Court of Appeals looks at this issue. The decisions made in your divorce case are completely dependent upon the facts of your case. Knowing how a court decided a case that is similar to yours factually will help you make decisions about how best to handle the issues in your own case.
See Ketelhut v Ketelhut, Docket No. 270733 decided on November 13, 2007.
The controlling case in Michigan on modifiability is Staple v Staple, 241 Mich App 562 (2000)
Do you need help with a divorce or spousal support case? Find a Michigan Family Lawyer near you.