When a marriage fails to work out, many states allow or require couples to go through a separate period in which they are still legally married, but are living separately. Legal separate allows couples to have time apart to consider their options, reconcile their differences, or start preparing for official divorce proceedings, including determining how assets are distributed and how custody will be handled in the event minor children are involved. In some situations, legal separates end with the couple working out their differences and the separate being reversed, while others result in official divorce papers being filed with the state court. Some states also mandate a specific legal separate period prior to filing for divorce.
Divorce vs. Separate Maintenance in Michigan
In Michigan, there is no such thing as legal separate; however, the courts do allow for couples to file for ‘separate maintenance.’ If the couple seeks to remain married, separate maintenance allows the parties to completely separate, but still hold the legal title. There are few differences under Michigan law between divorce and separate maintenance when it comes to filing procedures. For both divorce and maintenance, one spouse must live in the state for at least 180 days prior to filing for either action. Additionally, since Michigan does not require fault to be asserted, one of the parties just has to assert that the marriage has broken down and there is no chance of reconciliation. The procedures on how to divide up assets, manage child custody and determine spousal support will be the same here as well.
When filing for separate maintenance, the only difference is that the marriage is not dissolved. Unlike legal separate where a couple can reverse the action, separate maintenance is not reversible. The reasoning for filing for separate maintenance instead of divorce mainly comes down to benefits or religion; a couple may want to maintain their legal status in order for one spouse to continue holding onto their healthcare benefits. Holding a common title also allows for the parties to continue filing a joint tax return, which can be advantageous depending on their situation. Legal status may also become an issue as it relates to immigration; if one party is not from the United States and wants to maintain their citizenship or is working towards citizenship, continuing to stay legally married may be in their best interest. Lastly, due to religious views and vows, some couples see divorce as against their religion and will be outcast by their church.
If either spouse seeks to remarry, they must file for a brand new divorce proceeding, since they are still technically legally married. The court will generally look to the terms of the separate agreement filed with the court previously in order to incorporate the same into the divorce judgment. Filing for divorce or separate maintenance is not only an emotionally consuming process, but a very time consuming, complex process as well. While every situation differs and some are more complicated than others, consulting an attorney can help ease in those process. If you need assistance filing for divorce or separate maintenance or would like to discuss your options, contact the offices of Michael A. Robbins at (248) 646 – 7980 to receive a consultation regarding your case.