When couples are in the midst of divorce proceedings, the idea of a future marriage may be far from their minds. Yet, a recent opinion by the Michigan Court of Appeals, explains the effect remarriage or cohabitation could have on future payments of spousal support. Sweeny v Augustine-Sweeny, 2014 WL 1978190, (May 13, 2014).
In this case, the plaintiff ex-husband was attempting to lower or eliminate his spousal support payments based on a decrease in his wages due to his retirement. At a hearing on the matter, the plaintiff, who had subsequently remarried, testified that his current wife earned an income of about $40,000 per year. Based on his testimony, the trial court imputed the new wife’s entire $40,000 income to the plaintiff, in addition to his own income, for purposes of calculating his spousal support.
On appeal, the court agreed that the plaintiff’s change in employment met the requisite change in circumstances necessary for a modification. The court further agreed that “the effect of cohabitation on a party’s financial status is an appropriate factor to consider in evaluating spousal support.” However, the court disagreed that the entire $40,000 salary should be imputed to the plaintiff “without considering the extent to which plaintiff’s remarriage affected his financial status.” In other words, only that portion of the wife’s income that was used to lessen the plaintiff’s financial burden should have been factored into the calculation of spousal support. And without sufficient proof, there was no way of knowing how much of the wife’s income was spent exclusively for her benefit and how much was used for the benefit of the plaintiff.
This case serves as a good reminder that a change in circumstances after a judgment of divorce may impact or alter the original terms. Those who pay or receive ongoing spousal support should review their judgments and consult with their attorneys prior to remarriage or cohabitation.
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