Some people seem to think that alimony is no longer an issue in divorce cases but in reality alimony, also known as spousal support is alive and well in Michigan. Alimony is based upon a variety of factors but the biggest are really the length of the marriage, the education level of the parties, the age of the parties and the incomes of the parties, more accurately the difference in income between the parties. There are no bright lines for determining spousal support but if the parties have been married for ten years or longer and there is a significant difference between their incomes, then most likely some form of alimony will be awarded. Once it is awarded in a judgment of divorce it can be very difficult to eliminate but in some cases it may be modifiable so that if one person loses a job or gets a new job making significantly more money, then the amount of the alimony could change.
Modifiable Alimony vs Non-Modifiable Alimony.
There are very basically two types of alimony, modifiable or non-modifiable alimony. If the case does not settle and goes to a trial in front of a judge and the judge awards spousal support, then the spousal support is modifiable, a judge can only order modifiable alimony without the agreement of the parties. Modifiable alimony can basically be modified upon a change in circumstances at any time after the divorce. If the divorcing couple agrees in mediation or settlement negotiations to non-modifiable alimony, then the court may order support that must be paid in a set amount for a set number of years or months and cannot be changed under any circumstances. There are advantages and drawbacks to each that must be discussed with counsel before entering into settlement negotiations.
If you have non-modifiable alimony and you are looking to change what you are paying or receiving, unfortunately non-modifiable means just that, you cannot change it and you are stuck with it regardless of almost any changes that may have occurred since the divorce. If you have modifiable alimony, there may be certain circumstances listed in your judgment that qualify for the court to immediately consider changing the support amount, such as retirement or other life changing events. If your judgment does not list specific events, then you will have to first prove to the court that there has been a significant change in circumstances that justify revisiting the alimony or spousal support award. If you are able to prove to the court that such a change has occurred then the court will reconsider the alimony amount and may modify it to a higher monthly payment or a lower monthly payment based upon the current situation for the parties.
It should be noted, that one must petition the court for a modification immediately upon the change in circumstances. You cannot unilaterally decide that there has been a change and stop paying. For instance, you cannot retire and expect to simply stop paying, you must petition the court and get the court's approval or otherwise get an order from the court modifying the alimony otherwise arrears will continue to accrue. This is extremely important because spousal support is not retroactively modifiable, so once that alimony is due and owed, you cannot go back and get ride of the arrears that have accrued. The court can only retroactively modify the amount of alimony to the date you filed the motion requesting the modification. For instance, if you retire on January 1 and file your motion the same day but there is a three month delay until the court can hear the case and issue the decision, the court can modify the amount back to January 1, the date you retired and filed the motion. If you retire January 1, but don't file until July 1, then the court hears the case three months later, the court can only modify the alimony back to July 1, you are stuck with the arrears that accrued between January 1 and July 1 and there is nothing anyone can do for you.
Divorce and family law in general are very complicated areas of the law and can be very counterintuitive. It is imperative to consult with and hire an attorney that practices only in the area of family law. If you are facing some of these issues or have questions regarding modification of alimony or spousal support, please do not hesitate to schedule a consultation with us.