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Alimony in Michigan: How does it work?

Wondering how alimony works in Michigan? We explain the types of alimony available in Michigan, how it is calculated, and more in this overview.

evident Editorial Team
February 17, 2024
Detroit, Michigan, river

If you are going through a divorce, you might wonder, "How does alimony work in Michigan?"

The Michigan divorce process can be complicated, and navigating Michigan alimony rules only adds to the complexity.

In this article, we'll explain the basics of alimony in Michigan and answer common questions, such as how alimony is calculated in Michigan, how long alimony lasts, and whether alimony is taxable in the state.

So, how does alimony work in Michigan? Let's break it down, beginning with a quick definition.

Key Takeaways

What is Alimony?

Alimony is financial support paid by one spouse to the other while a divorce is pending or after a divorce is finalized.

Many states have replaced the term "alimony" with terms such as “spousal support” or "spousal maintenance." Michigan law still uses the term alimony, though it is often also called spousal support, and the terms are largely interchangeable. 

Types of Alimony in Michigan

What types of alimony are available in Michigan? There are two main ways that Michigan alimony can be paid, and two types of alimony based on how long the spousal support payments last.

The two ways that alimony payments are typically made in Michigan are:

  • Periodic payments: These are the most common form of alimony and involve monthly or yearly spousal support payments from one spouse to the other.
  • Lump-sum payments: Rather than regular, ongoing payments, lump-sum support is when the higher-earning spouse transfers the spousal support all at one time.

Periodic spousal support is more common because it is often difficult for the supporting party to make such a substantial contribution in a single payment.

Meanwhile, the two main types of alimony available in Michigan are:

  • Temporary Alimony: Temporary spousal support lasts for a shorter, set duration of time and is aimed at providing enough support to help the lower-earning spouse be financially stable. For instance, temporary support might be paid while a divorce is pending and end when the divorce decree is entered.
  • Permanent Alimony: Permanent spousal support, while not necessarily permanent, is longer-lasting support that is awarded in divorce cases involving longer marriages or situations where one spouse is in greater need of ongoing support.

So, although people sometimes refer to four different types of alimony in Michigan, there are really two types of alimony and two main ways that alimony is paid. (Compare this to a state like Florida, which has five different categories of alimony depending on the nature of the spousal support payments).

How is Alimony Calculated in Michigan?

Determining alimony in Michigan differs from other states, where courts often consider statutory factors (meaning they are listed in a particular state law). By contrast, the relevant factors courts consider when calculating alimony have been developed over time through case law (meaning judges' past decisions in divorce cases).

Michigan courts also have more discretion to determine alimony than they do when calculating child support, which is based on a formula. Instead, Michigan's approach emphasizes individualized assessments on a case-by-case basis, recognizing the unique circumstances of each divorce case.

Some of the factors Michigan courts consider when calculating alimony are:

  • Earning Capacity: The ability of each spouse to earn income is a primary consideration. Courts assess employment history, skills, education, and training to evaluate each spouse's current and future earning potential.
  • Financial Needs and Resources: The court examines the financial needs of the supported spouse and the financial resources of the paying spouse, encompassing income, assets, and liabilities. Judges will also consider how marital property is divided between the spouses and whether that property is liquid (i.e. cash or cash equivalent property).
  • Duration of the Marriage: Longer marriages often lead to more substantial spousal support awards, recognizing the financial interdependence established over time.
  • Standard of Living During Marriage: Maintaining a similar standard of living post-divorce is crucial. The court considers the lifestyle enjoyed by both spouses during the marriage.
  • Age and Health: The physical and emotional health of each spouse plays a role. Factors such as age and health conditions may impact one's ability to find gainful employment or become self-supporting.
  • Contributions to the Marriage: Financial and non-financial contributions are evaluated. This includes homemaking, childcare, and support for the other spouse's education or career.
  • Marital Conduct: While Michigan is a no-fault divorce state, marital misconduct may be considered if one spouse's conduct led to the breakdown of the marriage.
  • Whether Either Party Has Others to Support: If one spouse supports other people, such as children, the judge will consider how this affects their ability to work or their need for financial support.
  • Any Other Relevant Factors: The catch-all factor allows the court to consider any other circumstances in the specific case that would lead to a just and equitable result.

Fourteen factors can sound like a lot, and it is, but note that many of the factors get at the same basic questions -- what are the financial situations of each spouse, and how does that affect their ability to provide for themselves going forward?

Indeed, several of the factors directly relate to the concept of "earning capacity" -- that is, what is a spouse's ability to earn income now or in the future. But even other, more specific factors still connect back to the basic question of each spouse's financial status. For instance, a spouse's custodial responsibilities or living situation go directly to how much money they need to pay for housing or support any dependents.

And again, remember that the catch-all provision gives Michigan judges broad discretion to arrive at a fair alimony arrangement.

How Long Does Alimony Last in Michigan?

How long Michigan alimony lasts depends on the circumstances of the case and what the judge orders.

Temporary alimony typically ends after a specific amount of time, such as once the divorce case concludes.

Permanent support lasts longer but is often not actually permanent and could end in a number of ways, such as if a spouse requests a modification or if certain events occur.

When does alimony end in Michigan?

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Michigan alimony ends if certain events take place, such as the remarriage of the supported spouse or the death of either spouse.

In some states, alimony ends if the supported spouse cohabitates with a new romantic partner. (For example, this is true in Pennsylvania and Texas). In Michigan, though, cohabitation could be a reason to revisit an alimony award but does not automatically end the arrangement.

Can You Modify Alimony in Michigan?

Michigan allows for the modification of spousal support upon a spouse's request under certain circumstances, including significant changes in financial situations or the needs of either spouse. The change usually needs to be substantial, though, for a judge to change an award.

Substantial changes for the receiving spouse that might warrant a modification of Michigan alimony include if they were to begin cohabitating with a new romantic partner. As mentioned, cohabitation does not automatically end alimony, but it is often a substantial change in that spouse's ability to support themselves.

On the other hand, substantial changes to the other spouse that could affect their ability to pay alimony, such as losing their job, could also justify modifying alimony.

FAQs About Spousal Support in Michigan

Does Michigan have alimony?

Yes, alimony is available in Michigan, and either spouse may seek support. A judge will award spousal support based on a variety of factors that largely revolve around the higher-earning spouse's ability to pay alimony and the lower-earning spouse's need for financial support.

Michigan alimony is different from other states' laws, which are often encoded in a specific law passed by the state legislature. Michigan alimony law, by contrast, is largely the result of case law, meaning that judge's decisions over time have created the fourteen-factor list that judges consider when calculating spousal support as opposed to any single statute.

That said, the basic analysis is broadly similar and boils down to weighing the financial situation of the spouse seeking support with the ability to pay for the other spouse.

Is alimony taxable in Michigan?

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Any alimony award finalized in January 2019 or later is not taxable in Colorado. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changed the tax treatment of alimony for both paying and receiving spouses.

Previously, alimony was deductible for the paying spouse and had to be reported as income for the receiving spouse. Under the new law, though, the paying spouse may no longer deduct alimony payments from their income, and the recipient spouse does not need to report alimony as part of their taxable income.

How do you avoid paying alimony in Michigan?

If you're wondering how to avoid paying alimony in Michigan, it's critical to first note that there are legal consequences for failing to pay spousal support. Michigan has a branch of the court called the Friend of the Court that is responsible for monitoring compliance with issues related to custody, parenting time, child support, and spousal support. The Friend of the Court can take enforcement steps, including income withholding, passport suspension or denial, holding the delinquent spouse in contempt, and more.

That said, circumstances sometimes change, and if you think alimony is no longer warranted, you should seek a modification of the original award with the court. But it is important to comply with any court-ordered support award until a judge has modified the arrangement.

Additionally, to avoid paying alimony in the first place, it is often best to reach an agreement with your ex-spouse as part of any divorce settlement agreement. If there is a significant disparity in earning capacity, this may be difficult to do. However, working cooperatively to craft an agreement that meets both parties' needs may be your best chance to avoid periodic support obligations going forward. (And working together to reach agreements can also generally keep the cost of divorce down).