I am a divorce lawyer with my office in Auburn Hills, Oakland County, Michigan. My office is centrally located close to Rochester, Rochester Hills, Birmingham, Bloomfield, Troy, Oxford, Clarkston and Oakland Township. The first time I meet with a potential client, I often use two different “prognosticator” programs to determine an estimate for child support and/or spousal support. These programs are often relatively accurate with respect to the child support because child support is based upon a formula however the amount of child support varies depending on the number of overnights the children have with each parent. Alimony or spousal support is based upon fourteen factors and is nor formulaic, however, these programs take some of the factors and apply a formula to those quantifiable factors. I use the prognosticator as a helpful tool to provide a suggestion regarding the potential range and length of spousal support.
The courts are not allowed to use a formula to determine spousal support, rather the judge is required to weigh the factors and come up with what the court believes is equitable. In a recent case, Sparks v Sparks, Mich App Docket No. 312641, October 17, 2013 (unpublished opinion), the Michigan Court of Appeals indicated that, despite the admonishment that courts may not use a formula to determine alimony, the court may consider these programs when determining the amount and duration of support. In that case, the parties were older, 71 and 66 years old. While the husband was in good health and continued to work, the wife was in poor health and could not work which resulted in an income disparity between the two. The Appellate Court upheld the trial court's determination of alimony even though the court apparently at least considered a prognosticator program. The Court of Appeals stated that there is nothing that prohibits the trial judge's consideration of spousal support programs, rather the use of a rigid and arbitrary formula is prohibited. It helped that the trial court stated on the record that it was not bound by the prognosticators, and was only using them as a guide. It also considered other factors such as the ability to work, the source and amount of property awarded to each party, needs of the parties, prior standard of living, health of the parties and general equity principles.
The prognosticators have long been used by attorneys and mediators to help settle cases and guide clients. The Court has now approved the use of the programs for consideration by the judges as well.