In any divorce or custody proceeding conducted in a family court, a support obligation -whether spousal support or child support- may be modified if certain conditions are established. Unlike a property division in a divorce proceeding which is final, support can be modified. This is because our law recognizes that a person’s ability to pay support, and the recipient’s need to receive support, are constantly in flux.
Not just any change in circumstance will convince a family court judge that a modification of support is appropriate. The child support laws in Michigan have established various markers to justify an increase or decrease in a support obligation. A valuable reference tool for determining or modifying a child support obligation is the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual, most recently published in 2013.
Child Support. The procedure for a modification of child support is through filing a motion by one of the parties to the proceeding, or a motion can come from the Friend of the Court. The party filing such a motion has the burden to persuade the family court that proper cause or a “change in circumstance” exists to justify modifying the support obligation. If both the support payor and the payee agree, then a hearing on the issue will not be required and usually a stipulated order [i.e. an order entered by the court with the agreement of both parties] will suffice.
The most common example of a change in circumstance justifying modification of a support obligation is a significant change in income. The MCSF Manual expressly recognizes the following as valid changes of circumstance that may justify a child support modification:
- The support payor begins or stops receiving social security benefits;
- The minor child begins to receive social security benefits;
- A payor suffers a long-term disability affecting the payor’s ability to work;
- Either parents’ income changes by more than 75%;
- A parent is called to active military duty;
- Significant changes in the medical expenses of a party; or
- A change in the payor’s financial circumstances due to other support obligations [i.e. commencement or termination of a spousal support obligation, the emancipation of a child, or payment of support in a separate family court matter].
The above is by no means an exhaustive list and we have experience in dealing with a wide variety of support modification situations. Give our law firm a call if you believe you may be paying too much child support, or conversely, if you believe you may be entitled to an increase in child support.
Spousal Support. A modification of spousal support is largely governed by three statutes that recognize certain situations justifying a change in alimony. Perhaps the single most significant factor in the termination of a spousal support obligation is the remarriage of the payee. While remarriage is no longer a conclusive reason to terminate alimony, it is a very significant equitable factor. The law does not favor an ex-spouse supporting another ex-spouse when that person has re-married and will not depend on, and look to, their new spouse of financial support and maintenance.
Like child support, alimony is also modifiable due to a change in circumstances. The same financial and income considerations apply and most cases are fact-specific. As in child support cases, modification of a spousal support obligation is done via the stipulation of the parties or, if there is no agreement, through a motion in the family court. The party moving the court for a modification bears the burden of presenting evidence justifying the change, and the related burden of persuading the fact finder [i.e. the family court judge or the Friend of the Court referee] that a modification is appropriate.
If you believe you are paying excess alimony, or conversely, if you believe you may be entitled to an increase in spousal support, our law firm offers a free consultation to explore your options.