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How Long do Spousal Support Payments Continue?

BY IN Alimony

When one spouse requests the court to order spousal support, also known as alimony, the judge will first determine whether spousal support is appropriate. The judge will not automatically order spousal support; instead, Michigan law requires the judge to review the following factors:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The standard of living enjoyed during the marriage
  • Each spouse’s financial contributions during the marriage
  • Each spouse’s conduct during the marriage
  • The spouses’ respective ages and health conditions
  • The spouses’ respective incomes and earning capacities
  • The educational level of the spouse seeking alimony
  • The spouses’ ability to pay and the need for alimony
  • The division of the spouses’ marital assets
  • Any other financial support obligations owed by either spouse

Based on a review of these factors, the judge will determine 1) if spousal support is appropriate; 2) who will pay support; 3) how much support must be paid; 4) the duration of the support payments, and 5) under which circumstances the amount or duration can be changed if your or your spouse’s situation changes.

Today, let’s discuss the duration of support and under which circumstances support may end sooner.

Types of spousal support

There are two types of spousal support: modifiable and non-modifiable.  If the spousal support order provides for non-modifiable support, spousal support will not change, even when your circumstances change. Parties sometimes agree to a non-modifiable spousal support order for several reasons. In some situations, parties want to avoid future litigation.  Some parties agree to non-modifiable alimony because the amount of spousal support is a way to pay off a property settlement, and sometimes clients agree to non-modifiable spousal support because they want to focus on their career which may create an increase in income, and the spouse does not want that to be considered for an increase in spousal support.

When you agree to or the judge orders modifiable spousal support, either party may petition the court to change the amount or the duration of support when circumstances change.  Often spousal support orders provide for a specific amount of years of spousal support payments.  Only in rare circumstances do we see permanent spousal support orders, meaning there is no date when the spousal support payments will end.  Permanent spousal support orders are sometimes ordered when the parties had a long-term marriage, when there is a significant difference in income between the spouses, or when one party is not able to earn any income in the future due to a medical or other condition preventing employment. 

How long will support continue?

The reality is that in most circumstances, judges accept that both spouses are able to earn an income. Even if a spouse left the workforce many years ago, the judge will likely provide short-term spousal support to allow the nonworking spouse to return to school to get a degree or a few years to find a job and new career.  In such a situation, the spousal support order will indicate the number of years that the support is ordered and provide a date when the alimony is supposed to end.

The spousal support order may also include additional circumstances when the support obligation will end.  Common circumstances are 1) death of paying or receiving spouse; 2) remarriage of the receiving spouse; 3) cohabitation of the receiving spouse.

A new romantic relationship often causes disputes and litigation.  When does the former spouse have a “sleepover” at their friend’s house, and when is it considering cohabitation?

The most common reasons to request a change in spousal support are changes in income, a party’s cohabitation or marriage, a party’s retirement, or an inability to continue the same employment due to health reasons.

If you are facing a change in your situation or received a request to have your spousal support order amended, contact the attorneys at Kraayeveld Law. Let’s have a sit-down conversation to discuss the pros and cons of each provision of your Judgment, allowing you to make an informed decision regarding your divorce and alimony.   Call us at 616-285-0808.