Unlike child support, spousal support is highly adaptable and somewhat unpredictable.
Under Michigan law, child support amounts are calculated according to a fairly rigid formula based on the child’s needs and the parents’ ability to pay. Legally, the need springs out from a parent’s obligation to provide for their child, not from any relationship between the parents. The parents cannot negotiate away their obligations to support their children. And since the state has an interest in making sure children are not neglected, the state has several ways to enforce a child support order, including garnishing wages and withholding benefits from delinquent parents.
Spousal support, also known as alimony, is very different. A court will not order spousal support in every divorce, only in those where circumstances would lead to an unfair situation without it. What’s more, the spouses have a lot of leeway when they arrange their own spousal support regimen as part of an out-of-court settlement.
That said, in some cases the parties cannot agree on a financial settlement, and one party asks the court to award spousal support. In deciding whether spousal support is needed, and how much, Michigan courts consider a list of factors including, but not limited to:
- The duration of the marriage
- The ages of the parties
- The behavior of the parties during the marriage
- The income and financial resources of each party
- The needs of each party
- The standard of living of the parties during the marriage
If the court decides that spousal support is necessary, it can call for it to be paid in a lump sum or in periodic payments. The obligation may be indefinite, for a limited time, or only until some conditions are met. Once the court decides these matters, it issues something called a Universal Spousal Support Order, which dictates the terms and amounts of the obligations. If the paying spouse fails to follow through on payments, the receiving spouse must petition the court to enforce the order.