Divorce laws vary by state and can include very complicated issues. One issue that comes up in almost every case is division of property and debts and even this can be very complicated. If you are considering a divorce, it is a good idea to consult with a Michigan divorce lawyer as soon as possible.
Division of Marital Property
Most property owned by either spouse, regardless of how it is titled (jointly or in the name of just one spouse) is going to be considered marital. Marital property is very basically any property that comes to either party during the marriage by way of that person's own efforts. This includes income earned by either party, retirement accounts and pensions as well as any savings, it even includes lottery winnings. Most real estate held by either party is going to be considered marital. If one party owned the real estate before the marriage, he or she may be able to claim some or all of the premarital value as separate property but the increase in value during the marriage will most likely be considered marital equity.
The court is required to consider a set of factors when dividing marital property but the general rule in Michigan is that the court must divide the property in an equitable manner. This means that in most cases the property gets divided roughly equally. If the court is going to order a division that awards one spouse more than fifty-five (55%) percent of the marital property, then the court must articulate good reasons for this division or it may be subject to reversal by the court of appeals.
Division of Separate Property.
Inheritances fall into a special category of property called separate property. Generally separate property is awarded one hundred (100%) percent to the party that inherited the property so long as that party keeps the property separate. A few examples will help explain how this works. The first example is where a party inherits funds in a separate account, lets say $100,000 and keeps that money in the account without withdrawing any of it or adding any money to it, in most cases that party will be awarded the entire $100,000. Now say that the spouse starts adding her income to that account and spending money out of that account, in a short period of time, that entire account will become marital property subject to division because the spouse "commingled" it with marital funds. Finally, while not depositing any money into the account, the spouse withdraws $40,000 from the account and uses that for improvements to the marital home. In that case, the $60,000 remaining in the account is separate but the money put into the house becomes marital equity subject to equitable division.
However, this does not always end the analysis. There is a statute that allows the courts in Michigan to "invade" separate property (like an inheritance) and award some or all of that separate asset to the other spouse. The statute is MCL 552.401 and it states as follows: The circuit court of this state may include in any decree of divorce or of separate maintenance entered in the circuit court appropriate provisions awarding to a party all or a portion of the property, either real or personal, owned by his or her spouse, as appears to the court to be equitable under all the circumstances of the case, if it appears from the evidence in the case that the party contributed to the acquisition, improvement, or accumulation of the property . . . . [MCL 552.401.]
An example of where a court did this can be found in the Wayne County Michigan case of Sutariya v Sutariya, Mich App No. 345115, February 18, 2020 (unpublished). In that case, the court found that the wife's contributions to the marriage allowed it to invade the husband's inheritance. It then proceeded to award the wife one million dollars worth of approximately three million in stock that he inherited.
If you have an inheritance or other separate property it is essential to consult with a well-versed divorce or family law attorney as soon as possible. Attempting to handle your divorce without an attorney could lead to costly and painful mistakes regarding support, custody, and property division. If you are considering getting married, then a prenuptial agreement is essential to protect your rights and property.
Contact A Michigan Divorce Lawyer for More Information
Divorce laws are complicated. Contact a good Michigan divorce lawyer to make sure that you are taking the necessary steps to protect your future.