When people ask me about legal separation in Michigan, they are usually talking about marriage separation agreements or other arrangements that can preface a divorce, during which time a couple begins to live separately. There are also times when a couple does not wish to make that final decision and file for divorce.
The concept of legal separation in Michigan can be confusing. There is no true action in our state that is entitled “legal separation.” In Michigan, in order to arrange a marital separation that is legally enforceable in court, a couple may take the following actions:
- file for divorce
- enter into a separation agreement
- seek what is called “separate maintenance”
Otherwise, a couple may choose to live separately of their own free will. This presumes there are only minor disagreements or misunderstandings about bill paying, child custody, visitation schedules, child and spousal support, property and debt division.
One Form of Legal Separation in Michigan is a Separation Agreement
Before a couple enters into the divorce process, they may negotiate a marital separation agreement, which is a legally enforceable contract. Also called a property settlement agreement, this contract stipulates that you and your spouse agree to live apart, and the rights and responsibilities of each spouse are established until a divorce is granted.
The contract sets the terms for how property and debts are to be divided and how spousal support will be paid. If there are minor children involved, the separation agreement will establish terms for child custody, visitation and child support until the divorce proceedings are finalized.
Care must be taken with the preparation of a separation agreement, as it may affect divorce proceedings and final judgments.
Another Form of Legal Separation in Michigan is Separate Maintenance
The simple explanation of separate maintenance is that it is a legal channel that permits a couple to split their assets, divide all their debt, split their responsibilities for their children, live independently, and still remain married.
The process for separate maintenance is very similar to filing for divorce. An action for separate maintenance is filed in the circuit court in the same manner, and on the same grounds, as an action for divorce in Michigan.
Why Choose Separate Maintenance Over Divorce or a Separation Agreement?
I have worked with many clients who wish to remain married but live apart. A separate maintenance action can be the right choice for couples seriously considering divorce, yet certain situations exist such as:
- Their religious or moral beliefs prohibit or disapprove of divorce.
- Their family is in a state of transition. They need personal time and financial “space” that is structured and enforceable, while they reflect upon repairing or dissolving their marriage.
- They need to keep the health or medical insurance currently provided by their spouse.
As with a divorce or a separation agreement, a separation maintenance action creates the road map for you and your spouse's financial future. It also impacts your relationship with your children. All property settlements and debt issues are dealt with as in a divorce filing.
You must also decide on how future assets and debt will be handled. You must be careful that insurance policies will continue to be covered if you file for separate maintenance.
Legal Advice on Separation in Michigan
There are many other caveats to consider. That is why all legal documents must be meticulously prepared by an attorney with experience in handling such actions. A great deal of my practice is devoted to doing just that. I am able to assist you in every step of preparing a separation agreement or an action for separate maintenance, and give you guidance in your quest for legal separation arrangements under Michigan law.
We must pay careful attention to ensure that your long-term goals are met and your rights are protected. I can also assist you with converting a separate maintenance to a divorce.
If you are considering any type of marital separation arrangement, please contact me for advice about legal separation in Michigan. We service clients in all of Oakland County, Michigan including Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills, Birmingham, Detroit, and Troy.