Spousal support factors: Show me the money!

By Marie Matyjaszek

Legal News

I figured I should get the factor-specific articles out of the way since I seem to be on a roll with them lately. This time, I'm focusing on the spousal support (or alimony) factors, which are a little trickier than child support. Most people agree that child support should be paid because they see the money as benefitting their children. (Although I've often heard that Mom just goes out and spends Tommy's support on some sweet new shoes and hairstyle for herself. Honestly, though, those cut and colors are expensive).

Spousal support is not a guaranteed right--as much as anything in the legal world can be considered guaranteed. Unlike the Michigan Child Support Guidelines, which are to be followed unless the parties agree to deviate from them, the Michigan Spousal Support Guidelines are just that - guidelines. Nothing is really mandatory and it is routinely said that spousal support guidelines are both high in terms of the dollar amount and the years of recommended support.

The factors for determining spousal support are outlined in various cases, the two big ones being Parrish v Parrish, 138 Mich App 546 (1984) and Sparks v Sparks, 440 Mich 141 (1992). The first four factors will be examined in this article and the next two articles will finish them off.

The first factor is "the past relations and the conduct of the parties." This is where everyone plays the blame game and talks about how promiscuous, abusive and overall awful their spouse was during the marriage. As I've said before, I personally think the promiscuity part has significantly less impact on the court's decision than it used to back in the day. If there are repeated offenses, domestic violence or actual evidence of really lousy behavior, then you have a better shot at this factor panning out for you. It's been my experience that all my clients think their spouses were total arses during the marriage. Hence, the divorce.

The second factor is the length of the marriage. This is a no-brainer--the longer you're married, the more likely you're going to qualify for a potential award of spousal support. There aren't a set number of years, but I'd say on average the awards are for those couples who enjoyed not-so-wedded bliss for 10 or more years. However, note that the courts will not consider your courtship or the time period that you "resided in sin" as part of this overall number.

The ability of the parties to work is factor tres. If you're able to work, you're less likely to need moolah from your former spouse. On the flip side, if your sugar daddy or mama can't work, you're less likely to extract money from them in the form of spousal support. I run into cases where one spouse has been a stay at home mom/dad and really hasn't had that much work experience; therefore, her or his ability to quickly secure employment is not as likely as those cases where both parents worked throughout the marriage. If the parties are older or disabled, this also impacts their ability to hold a job.

The last factor for this article's examination is the source and amount of property awarded to the parties. Case law has held that one party should not have to drain his or her property awarded in order to survive if spousal support is a reality. As was so aptly put by the Michigan Court of Appeals in Hanaway v Hanaway, 208 Mich App 278, 296 (1995), "...where both parties are awarded substantial assets, the court, in evaluating a claim for alimony, should focus on the income-earning potential of the assets and should not evaluate a party's ability to provide self-support by including in the amount available for support the value of the assets themselves. Given the length of the marriage, the magnitude of the marital estate, and defendant's capital position and earning potential after the divorce, [Mrs. Hanaway] should not be expected to consume her capital to support herself."

Spousal support is a hard pill to swallow. So if your attorney thinks you might be on the hook, bring a water bottle with you to court to keep it down.

The author is an associate attorney at the Law Office of Robert Matyjaszek, PLLC, Jackson, Michigan. Her blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached at (517) 787-0351 or by emailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com.

Published: Mon, Mar 19, 2012