Spousal Support in Michigan – What Happens if I Can’t Pay It?

Spousal support is the legal term for what is often better known as alimony. The whole point of alimony is to support one of the spouses after a divorce in the manner to which he or she was accustomed during the marriage. The alimony may be paid by either spouse, typically the one who is earning the most money.

Alimony is not set in stone. The circumstances of both of the ex spouses may change over time, making the rationale for the amount of alimony paid to begin with change as well.

This means that if you have been ordered to pay a set amount of alimony and your circumstances change or your ex spouse’s circumstances change, you may request a review of the amount. You can get legal help to do this from a Michigan family law attorney.

The legal situation if you refuse to pay or stop paying spousal support

If you disagree with the amount of alimony you have been paying for whatever reason, or you fail to make payments because you simply cannot afford to, you could be arrested and charged with a felony offense. The punishment in Michigan, if found guilty of failing to pay alimony, may include a prison sentence, or a fine of up to $2,000, or both. There is no point in going down this road. It is far more sensible to discuss your situation with your ex-spouse and suggest that your payments are modified, or at least reduced until your situation changes. Failing this, you should talk to an attorney about your legal options. This may involve going through the Family Court to modify the payments so that you can afford them.

Reasons for modifying the amount of alimony

The court will allow a change in the amount of alimony as long as the reasons are justified. Be prepared to show evidence of the change in circumstances. Examples of what might be allowed include the following:

  • Your ex spouse has remarried;
  • Your ex spouse has obtained a new job, or is earning more money than when the alimony was first calculated;
  • You have retired;
  • You have lost your job and are unemployed at the moment;
  • You have changed jobs and are not earning as much as before;
  • Your ex-spouse has died.

How the process works when you want to modify alimony payments

As has already been stressed, you cannot just reduce your spousal support payments or stop paying them without going through a court to request a modification in payments. Of course, if you and your ex spouse come to an amicable agreement about spousal support the whole process will be a lot simpler and faster.

If you think that you will not get any sort of satisfactory agreement from your ex spouse, but still have a good reason for reducing or eliminating alimony, you should file a petition with the family court requesting a reduction in the amount that you have been ordered to pay. Your spouse will respond to the request. The response may be favorable or not.

The court will then schedule a hearing at which evidence for reducing or eliminating alimony will be heard. This evidence is crucial to your chance of modifying the amount of money you must pay in spousal support. This is where your divorce attorney can really make a difference.

When spousal support is decided on in the first place it may be a lump sum, or a regular payment, weekly or monthly. Either partner can request a modification in the amount of payment and the person who is receiving a regular payment may very well ask for more money if their situation has changed. Generally, a request for another lump sum payment is unlikley to be accepted, but there may be good reasons why a court may agree that an ex spouse should receive a greater regular alimony payment.

The key thing about spousal support is that there are strict rules about the way it is handled and the best way to work out whether you might be able to reduce the amount you are now paying is to discuss your situation with an experienced attorney first before filing a petition for modification.