How is spousal support calculated?

How is spousal support calculated?  Spousal support is when one spouse pays money (also called alimony) to another spouse for a term of months or years after divorce. The general rule is that a spouse may need spousal support if he/she is substantially dependent on the income of the other spouse for the regular necessities of life. The amount of spousal support will vary with the disparity of the parties’ incomes and the length of the marriage. Which begs the question:  “How is spousal support calculated?”

How is spousal support calculated?  The spousal support statute?

The spousal support statute, Michigan Compiled Laws section 552.23(1), contemplates a case-by-case approach in determining an award of spousal support.  The statute provides the legal authority for a court to order spousal support and insight as to how spousal support should be calculated. The relevant portion of the statute providing:

“. . . if the estate and effects awarded to either party are insufficient for the suitable support and maintenance of either party . . ., the court may also award to either party . . . spousal support . . ., after considering the ability of either party to pay and the character and situation of the parties, and all the other circumstances of the case.”

The spousal support statute provides a three prong answer to the question. First, the ability of a party to pay spousal support. Second, the character and situation of the parties and third consideration of all the other circumstances of the case. To help better answer the question we examine case law on the issue.

How is spousal support calculated? The case law.

Case law provides further insight to the question. In the case of Loutts v Loutts, 298 Mich App 21 at 29-30 (2012), the Michigan Court of Appeals noted that: “The primary purpose of spousal support is to balance the parties’ incomes and needs so that neither party will be impoverished, and spousal support must be based on what is just and reasonable considering the circumstances of the case.” Id. at 32.

In the case of Olson v. Olson case, the Court of Appeals restated the answer to the question how is spousal support calculated. The Olsen case (citing earlier cases) provides that in deciding whether to award spousal support, the trial court should consider the following factors:

(1) the past relations and conduct of the parties;

(2) the length of the marriage;

(3) the abilities of the parties to work;

(4) the source and the amount of property awarded to the parties;

(5) the parties’ ages;

(6) the abilities of the parties to pay support;

(7) the present situation of the parties;

(8) the needs of the parties;

(9) the parties’ health;

(10) the parties’ prior standard of living and whether either is responsible for the support of others;

(11) the contributions of the parties to the joint estate;

(12) a party’s fault in causing the divorce;

(13) the effect of cohabitation on a party’s financial status; and

(14) general principles of equity.

In the case of Korth v. Korth, 256 Mich.App. 286, 289 (2003), the Court of Appeals provided that:

“The trial court should make specific factual findings regarding the factors that are relevant to the particular case.”

In simple terms, the primary purpose of spousal support is to balance the parties’ incomes and needs so that neither party, will be impoverished and spousal support must be based on what is just and reasonable considering the circumstances of the case. In the case of Woodington v Shokoohi, 288 Mich App 352 at 356 (2010), the Michigan Court of Appeals noted that spousal support may be rehabilitative, that is, intended to allow a party to assimilate into the work force and establish economic self-sufficiency.

An examination of the statute and case law provides a complex answer to the question how is spousal support calculated in Michigan. During settlement negotiations, practitioners often rely on guidelines to estimate a client’s exposure, however computer guidelines do not examine subjective factors such as the needs of the parties (not easy to enter that number in a computer) and are not complaint with the required legal analysis provided above. That is when legal experience comes in and we can help.

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I have been exclusively practicing divorce and family law in Michigan for over two decades.  The attorneys at Findling Law all share the core value of practicing law to help people navigate change in their lives, without compromising principles.  We are compassionatecreative and always prepared. We specialize in high socio-economic, high-profile and high-conflict cases, while also working with clients of all backgrounds. We recognize that the most important aspect of the practice of law is the application of the law to your specific circumstances.That is why we provide more free information on divorce and family law than any other Michigan law firm. We want to help you manage your situation. Allow our exceptional legal team to help you navigate the change in your life, without compromising principles.

By:  Daniel Findling

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