A lesser known fact about divorce is that it is possible, in the state of Michigan, to have one in all but name. The act of legally separating from your spouse is in many ways just like a divorce. However, it is an entirely different legal act, which comes under the title of Separate Maintenance.
When a couple no longer lives together and considers their marriage to be irreconcilable, but they don’t want to formally file for divorce, they petition the court for a Judgment of Separate Maintenance.
Just like a divorce judgment, this filing requests that the court divide all of the couple’s assets, and make a determination with regards to child custody arrangements and child support payments. All debts, financial assets, and co-owned property is divided by the court. If necessary, spousal support is also determined.
If the separating couple are willing and able to resolve all of their financial, custody, and support related issues before the judgment is filed in a settlement agreement, then the court will incorporate this into the judgment, as long as it finds all aspects of the settlement to be fair and agreeable.
The one distinct difference in this proceeding is that when all is said and done, the couple are still married. So while it may feel for all the world like you are divorced after a Judgment of Separate Maintenance, you cannot legally remarry. You must go through the process a second time and file for divorce.
Legal separation is similar to divorce, but legally it’s not the same thing.
Under Michigan law, the only legally recognized grounds for a separate maintenance judgment is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This is also known as “irreconcilable differences.” This means that the couple believes that there is no likelihood whatsoever that their marriage could be preserved.
Initially, separate maintenance was used when a couple no longer wished to be married but wanted to continue sharing the health insurance benefits that marriage provided them. But in recent years, many health insurance companies have changed their policies to include the fact that a judgement of separate maintenance is treated in the same way as a divorce.
Why would a couple want to be divorced in all but name? Many people do not believe that divorce is morally acceptable for religious reasons, but they are sometimes trapped in marriages with abusive partners, or partners who are struggling with addictions that make them a possible danger to children. For them, a Judgment of Separate Maintenance gives peace of mind without a violation of conscience.
If you are considering a legal separation, please contact The Kronzek Firm and speak to one of our experienced family law attorneys. We would be glad to meet with you and discuss all of the options available to you in this, and other, areas. In the event that you decide that a divorce is actually what you want, then we can help you with that as well.