Can I Get a Legal Separation Instead of a Divorce?

There are many Michigan residents who have considered filing for divorce but have decided to remain married for reasons that have nothing to do with the possibility of repairing their relationship. As an article in Forbes explains, the notion of a separation is common before divorce, yet more and more couples are making the decision to remain separated on a seemingly permanent basis instead of getting divorced.

While Michigan does not have a specific law pertaining to legal separation, there is a statute governing "separate maintenance" in the state (MCL § 552.7). For all intents and purposes, separate maintenance in Michigan works like legal separation. We will tell you more about this option if you do not want to legally get divorced, as well as some of the pros and cons of separate maintenance.

What is Separate Maintenance in Michigan?

Whether you do not want to get divorced-yet want to have the court make decisions about property division, child support, and child custody as if you were getting a divorce-for religious reasons or financial reasons, it is important to understand how Michigan courts view actions for separate maintenance.

The statute clarifies that a couple can file for separate maintenance the same way they would file for divorce. When one spouse files for separate maintenance, the other spouse-like in a divorce case-has the opportunity to answer.

When the other spouse files an answer to the action for separate maintenance, that spouse can agree with the reasons set forth for the separate maintenance or deny them. In addition, that spouse has the option to file a counterclaim for divorce. Depending upon whether or not the defendant files a counterclaim for a divorce, if the court determines that the marriage has broken down completely and cannot be saved, then the court can do one of two things:

  • If there is no divorce counterclaim: enter a judgment of separate maintenance; or

  • If a divorce counterclaim has been filed: enter a judgment for dissolution of marriage.

Benefits and Limitations to Separate Maintenance Instead of Divorce

Why would someone want to seek separate maintenance instead of divorce? In some situations, as we mentioned above, a married couple might have religious reasons for wanting to avoid divorce. In these situations, separate maintenance can allow for a legal separation of the parties without actually dissolving the marriage.

Yet many couples also want separate maintenance-and to avoid divorce-for financial reasons. For example, tax benefits for being married can lead a couple to remain married despite a decision to live separate lives. Some couples also remain married but seek separate maintenance in order to meet the marriage requirement (of 10 years or more) for Social Security benefits. Some couples also may remain married so that both parties can benefit from one spouse's health insurance plan.

Of course, if you only seek separate maintenance instead of a divorce, you will not be able to remarry. In addition, you should keep in mind that if you ultimately do file for divorce, financial decisions that your spouse makes after the separate maintenance judgment can impact you in significant ways.

Contact a Divorce Lawyer in Michigan

If you have questions about separate maintenance versus divorce, you should talk with a divorce lawyer in Michigan about your case. Contact the Law Offices of Michael A. Robbins for more information.