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Legal Separation in Michigan (aka Separate Maintenance)

What is a Legal Separation in Michigan?

Occasionally people come to me seeking a legal separation instead of a divorce.  What is a Legal Separation in Michigan? How does a legal separation differ from a divorce? How do I get one?

A legal separation is very similar to a divorce, except at the end, you are still legally married.  You have to file a Complaint for Separate Maintenance, go through and divide all of your assets, account for spousal support, if any, and if there are minor children, you have to deal with custody, parenting time and support.  The court will put you on the same timeline as a regular divorce case and you will have court dates, etc.  One issue that arises is if the parties want to divorce later.  What you have to do next depends somewhat on what Judge you have.  Some Judges will allow you to convert your Judgment of Separate Maintenance into a Judgment of Divorce, however, a new action does need to be filed.  However, because most issues have already been decided, the agreements made for the Separate Maintenance can be binding, so it is important to take it seriously.

Why would someone want a legal separation in Michigan instead of a divorce? There are a few reasons someone may want a legal separation instead of a divorce.  Religious reasons come to mind first and foremost.  Some people want to ensure that they and their rights and their property are protected, while not formally dissolving the marital bond.  Another reason is for health insurance.  Some health insurance plans will allow a legally separated couple to keep the dependent spouse covered by the insurance plan.  However, some plans view the Judgment of Separate Maintenance as an event that prevents the dependent spouse from staying covered.  It is very important to check with the individual plan if healthcare coverage the is main reason for requesting separate maintenance instead of a divorce.

The effect of separation, at the end of the day, is that you have gone through all of the steps of a divorce, but are not divorced.  It is important to note that you will be prevented from remarrying.  Therefore, a Separate Maintenance, in general, is not recommended for younger couples.  There also may be estate planning consequences of a Judgment of Separate Maintenance. If there is a specific reason for not wanting to terminate the marriage, a Separate Maintenance can be a useful tool, however, it is recommended that you discuss the pro’s and con’s thoroughly with an experienced Family Law attorney.