What is a Legal Separation?

Some couples legally separate as a stepping stone on the way to divorce (or as an alternative to divorce) but what does this mean? If one spouse moves out of the marital home are the spouses legally separated? What's the difference between a physical separation, a legal separation, and a divorce? Each of these questions are answered in turn below in accordance with Michigan law, but for case specific information about obtaining a legal separation be sure to consult with a local divorce attorney.

Legal Separation in Michigan: Separate Maintenance

Technically speaking, here in Michigan there is no such thing as a "legal separation". However, we do have something called "separate maintenance", which in practice is very similar to what other states call a legal separation. A legal separation is a formal legal arrangement following a court order under which a couple remains married but chooses to live apart. Court orders granting legal separations generally address issues such as child support, property division, spousal support, child custody, etc. A judgment of separate maintenance in Michigan is very similar in that it is a court order that addresses the same issues as a legal separation order (i.e. child support, property division, etc.) and allows a couple to legally live separate lives while still remaining married.

Legal Separation vs. Physical Separation

To be clear, a physical separation is not the same thing as a legal separation. A physical separation occurs when one (or both spouses) move out of the marital home and no longer reside together. However, this act alone does not carry any legal significance unless the couple formalizes, or legalizes, their separation via a court order. Attention - be careful, there is a common misconception floating around that a physical separation is the same thing as a legal separation but this is not the case!

Legal Separation vs. Divorce

Married couples in Michigan can petition the court for a judgment of separate maintenance as a stepping stone on their way to obtaining a divorce, or it can be used as an alternative to divorce (often because the couple is opposed to divorce for religious or other reasons). The key thing to remember is that a couple that is legally separated is still legally married while a couple that is divorced has legally dissolved their marriage. This distinction is important for a number of reasons, namely because a couple that is legally married can still sometimes obtain benefits from being married (such a health insurance from one spouse's employer), one spouse's debts may be attributed to the other, and they are not allowed to marry new romantic partners that may enter their lives at a future date.

Reach Out to Us for Legal Help Today

Are you considering petitioning the court for separate maintenance or a divorce in Michigan? Wondering which option would be more beneficial? The experienced divorce lawyers of the Law Offices of Michael A. Robbins would be happy to discuss the pros and cons of each with you during an initial consultation and advise you of your legal options. Contact our Bloomfield Hills office today at (248) 646-7980.