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Does Remarriage Automatically Terminate Spousal Support?

By: Wendy Alton, Divorce Attorney at Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels, P.C.

One of the most frequent questions our divorce clients ask is: “Does spousal support automatically ends if the person receiving support remarries?” 

The law states that unless you agree to other terms in your divorce judgment, a remarriage is considered a change in circumstances. The court may terminate spousal support if the person receiving support remarries. MCL 552.13. It’s not an automatic termination, but remarriage is a change in circumstances that authorizes the court to end spousal support if the court chooses to do so.

You can also agree in your divorce judgment that spousal support will end when the person receiving support remarries. If this is the agreement, then support would end upon remarriage.

If a remarriage is a change in circumstances for either modifying or terminating spousal support, what exactly is considered remarriage? That may seem like a straightforward question, but it was a question that went to the Michigan Court of Appeals in the case of Lueck v Lueck, a published case decided in May 2019.

In Lueck, the husband and wife agreed in their divorce judgment that spousal support would continue for a set amount of time or “until wife remarries.” After the divorce, the wife met someone special and had a religious commitment ceremony at her church where they exchanged traditional vows and rings. However, there were no witnesses and they didn’t apply for a marriage license.

The husband who had been paying spousal support filed a motion with the court to terminate spousal support because the wife remarried. The husband argued that the divorce judgment referenced remarriage as a termination event, not just a “legal marriage,” and the commitment ceremony was essentially a marriage ceremony. After a full evidentiary hearing, the trial court agreed with the husband and concluded that the wife’s actions were done to defraud the court and circumvent the divorce judgment so that she could continue to collect spousal support. The court determined that equity required that spousal support be terminated.

The wife appealed the trial court’s decision. The Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court and overturned the ruling. The Court of Appeals cited to Michigan law, which states that Michigan doesn’t recognize common law marriage. A marriage license is required in order to legally marry in Michigan. MCL 551.2; MCL 551.101. The only marriage recognized under Michigan law is one that is based upon a marriage license. The Court of Appeals stated that the divorce judgment was unambiguous when it referenced remarriage, as marriage could only mean legal marriage pursuant to a marriage license. The wife could continue to collect spousal support as she wasn’t legally remarried.

The husband has asked for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, so stay tuned!

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