In an appropriate case, spousal support may be ordered by a judge in a divorce case. Normally, court-ordered spousal support will be modifiable. Most cases settle before trial, though. Some divorcing parties may agree to spousal support. If their settlement agreement and/or divorce agreement doesn't specify that the spousal support is non-modifiable, then Michigan law provides that upon proof of changed circumstances, one of the parties can file a motion in court to raise or lower the amount, or to terminate the support altogether.
Parties have another option, which is to enter into an agreement for non-modifiable spousal support. In effect, they are contracting to bind themselves to pay or to receive a certain amount of money monthly or annually.
Enforceable terms limiting modifiability are usually expressed something like this: "Neither Husband nor Wife is obligated to pay, and neither is entitled to receive alimony/spousal support, and all their claims and obligations concerning alimony/spousal support are forever waived and barred. The parties knowingly, intentionally, and without coercion agree to this provision which they intend to be non-modifiable."
A Michigan lawyer, Kent Weichman, formerly with the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court, and a frequent lecturer at continuing legal education seminars says this about non-modifiable spousal support:
"Non-modifiable spousal support is, in a sense, anti-equitable. It is usually requested by the payer, who does not want any future increases in salary to be assessed for additional spousal support. It is a calculated gamble for both parties, and the amount and duration is negotiated based on each party's estimation of risks and rewards. If the payer's income quadruples and the payee becomes disabled, the payee is still bound by the agreement. If the payer loses his job, the agreement is still binding although the enforcement of that agreement may be difficult or impossible.
"The non-modifiable spousal support is a support order under MCL 552.602(ff),(gg), and becomes a judgment as each payment falls due, MCL 552.603, and is subject to the surcharge if it is payable through the FOC and is past due, MCL 552.603a. The question isn't whether the agreement is binding, but rather the standard enforcement question of when and how it will be paid."
If you are in the process of divorcing, you will want to discuss with your attorney whether spousal support is likely to be court-ordered. [You may read an article I wrote about what factors the court will consider when assessing whether alimony should be awarded here. In another article, I have discussed the reasons why a party or both parties may wish to contract for non-modifiable spousal support. It is very important when considering an agreement for non-modifiable spousal support to clearly assess the risks. The same kinds of risks exist/are assumed as those associated with buying real estate, which has suddenly turned out to be a relatively risky venture. As Kent says: "Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you."