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Michigan spousal supportOne of the many issues that arises often during the divorce process is spousal support, also known as alimony or maintenance. Particularly in cases where one spouse makes a significantly larger amount each year, the spousal support can become a high point of discussion. Many who apply for support want to live as they did when they were married, and require their ex-spouse to provide for them just as they did when they were together.

As you can probably imagine, many spouses who are being asked to pay, argue until the bitter end because the money is rightfully theirs, as they are the ones who earn it. However, under divorce law in all states, spousal support should be awarded if certain criteria is met by both parties involved.

Monumental Michigan
For decades, the argument of spousal support has stayed within the same lines. One spouse is ordered to pay, the other is allotted a certain amount. The criteria for spousal support is based on a number of qualifying factors. With spousal support, Michigan law does not dictate how much to weigh each factor like the Michigan child support guidelines do. Michigan law only provides the list of factors to consider.

In a landmark Michigan case concerning spousal support, new clauses were adopted into the Michigan spousal support laws. The  Smith vs. Smith  Michigan case allowed the courts to look into the lives of those who had been awarded spousal support in the dissolution of their marriage, and properly update the allowance and even decide if they still qualified to receive it.

In the case, the plaintiff (ex-husband) filed a motion with the court seeking to terminate spousal support. The plaintiff argued that his former wife was cohabitating with her boyfriend, and therefore did not need to be supported by him any longer. However, his request was denied.

Smith Decision
Although his request was denied, he set a precedent in the definition and awarding of spousal support. The court ruled that they found the term “cohabitation” to be “unclear” or “equally susceptible to more than one meaning.”

The Smith panel established a “totality-of-the-circumstances test.” This meant that trial courts would use this test from now on to determine whether or not “cohabitation” justifies termination of an alimony obligation. Specifically, the Smith panel gave examples of three types of evidence trial courts should consider when determining whether a person is “cohabiting” within the means of the alimony provisions in the divorce settlement agreement. According to Smith, the trial court should examine the nature of the couple’s living arrangements and the extent to which they share a common residence, the nature of the couple’s relationship, and the couple’s financial arrangements.

The Future of Spousal Support
Overall, the Smith opinion has been the determining factor in more clearly defining this area of the law. There is now a test specifically crafted to help the court determine whether a payee is cohabitating or is simply involved in a long-term dating relationship

Divorce and the proceedings that go into it, is always  such a challenging and interesting area of family law because each case turns on the unique and specific set of facts involved. Whether the court is determining child custody, child support, spousal support, property distribution, or other issues, there is always something new and innovative in terms of how decisions are handed down. Thanks to Smith vs. Smith, the guidelines are clearer on what cohabitation consists of and if spousal support should be awarded.

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