In a divorce the Court makes a finding on whether or not either party will be required to pay the other spousal support (also known as alimony). This is similar to child support, but it is a payment by one ex-spouse to the other, to help financially support them. In many instances it is a monthly payment.
If you were divorced in the State of Michigan and the Court ordered “No Spousal Support,” you may not realize that years later spousal support still could become an issue. This is because under Michigan Law “spousal support,” as a general rule, is always subject to modification at a later date. There is no minimum period of time that must go by following entry of a Judgment of Divorce before a modification can be requested by either party. Yanz v Yanz, 116 Mich App 574, 323 NW2d 489 (1982). See Also
There is one method to take this option away in the future. In the Divorce Judgment (the final court order that provided for all of the final terms and conditions of the divorce) agree to special added language that prohibits spousal support from being modified.
The parties in a divorce may agree to waive the right to modification of spousal support and/or alimony under MCL 552.28. The Divorce Judgment would need to have language that says the parties do agree to forgo their statutory right to petition the court for modification and agree that the spousal support provision is final, binding, and nonmodifiable. Staple v Staple, 241 Mich App 562, 616 NW2d 219 (2000). If the parties agree do have this special language (which some courts refer to as “Staple Language”) in the final Divorce Judgment, then this will prevent either party from seeking to modify the spousal support decision at a later date.
Preventing modifications to spousal support could end up being very important. Although getting the Court to amend a finding on spousal support is not easy and generally would require a significant “change in circumstances,” nobody can predict the future and sometimes unexpected circumstances could arise. Your ex-spouse could get sick after the divorce is finalized and not be able to work. You could advance in your career or employment and have additional money available to pay an ex-spouse.
Remember that the modification can also work in reverse. If the “Staples Language” is not used, and the Divorce Judgment does award one party spousal support (let's use $400 per month as an example), if the party who pays the support has a loss or reduction in income they could argue that the support should be modified to accommodate the changed circumstances, as they can no longer afford to pay the $400 per month in my example. This situation could lead to a shocking result for some: if you were awarded a monthly payment from your ex-spouse that you have come to rely on, they could try and pull the rug out from underneath you by later filing a motion in the Court asking that the support payment be cancelled or reduced. Unless the “Staples Language” was used in the Divorce Judgment, the paying party could always seek to have the award modified in the future.
These issues are complicated and the Circuit Court Judge in your county could decide otherwise, but divorce lawyers should be very careful to explain all of the in’s and out’s concerning spousal support in the divorce and how this issue could be subject to modification in the future.
If you are divorcing in Michigan, I encourage you to consult with a local divorce attorney to fully understand your rights and options with regard to spousal support agreements. If you are in St. Joseph, Cass, Branch or Kalamazoo county, I encourage you to contact me for a free initial phone consultation on your case.