DIRTY WORDS IN DIVORCE:
George Carlin once graced audiences with the “7 dirty words. Divorce in Michigan also has its own list of dirty words; spousal support, child support, physical custody, legal custody, and qdro. In this 5 part blog post we will explore each of these words, define them, and attempt to make some sense with how to deal with each of these items in a Divorce case. This first segment will deal with spousal support.
Spousal support is a word that evokes fear in the hearts of many, hope in the hearts of others, and confusion in all of the rest. I say confusion because spousal support is a completely discretionary award, which when awarded is intended to balance the incomes and needs of the parties so that neither shall be impoverished, the award must also be reasonable in light of the facts of the case.
There is no strict formula for the calculation of spousal support, merely a set of factors that a Court should look to. The factors are set out are as follows:
(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 amount of property awarded to the parties, (5) the parties’ ages, (6) the abilities of the parties to pay alimony, (7) the present situation of the parties, (8) the needs of the parties, (9) the parties’ health, (10) the prior standard of living of the parties and whether either is responsible for the support of others, (11) 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.
Although these factors should be looked at, the Court is not required to make a finding as to each factor, thus spousal support is a completely arbitrary decision. The Michigan Court of Appeal has stated that unless an appellate court is completely convinced that the award or non-award of spousal support is inequitable it must stand on appeal.
Many family law practitioners will opine that spousal support is never warranted unless there is a large disparity in income. Another factor that lawyers look at it the length of the marriage. Typically anything less than 7 years rarely results in spousal support. After 10 years of marriage it becomes much easier to make the case for spousal support. A marriage which is 20 years or longer can oftentimes make a compelling case for permanent spousal support. An award of spousal support is taxable to the recipient and a tax deduction to the payer.
Spousal support is often awarded if one spouse has been a “stay at home spouse”. The logic behind this being that the spouse gave up his or her career to take care of the home and/or children. Depending on the length of the marriage, the “stay at home spouse” may be entitled to “rehabilitative spousal support” for a short duration to give that spouse the opportunity to prepare themselves to enter the workforce. Rehabilitative spousal support is often awarded for 3-5 years.