If your marriage has reached the breaking point and you’ve come to the conclusion that you can no longer continue, there are a few different options to consider. Most people jump right to divorce or annulment, but these are not the only solutions.
In Michigan legal separation is also an option. Referred to as “separate maintenance”, this is a legal avenue for permanent separation, similar to divorce or annulment, except that in the end, you are still married. It might sound counterintuitive, but for couples opposed to divorce for religious, financial, or other reasons, it could be the perfect outcome, especially considering how difficult it can be to obtain annulment.
What exactly is legal separation? How does legal separation in Michigan work? Why would you choose this option over divorce? Here are a few things you should know.
What is Legal Separation in Michigan?
In many ways, legal separation is very similar to divorce. With the help of the court, you and your spouse will divide assets and determine issues like alimony, child custody, and child support, just like with divorce proceedings. However, you will still be legally married when the process is complete.
You may be aware of the fact that Michigan is a no-fault divorce state. How does this apply to separate maintenance cases? As with divorce, legal separation Michigan requires only that one spouse determines that the marriage can no longer continue due to irreconcilable differences. No other grounds are needed to file for separation or divorce.
That said, filing for and completing a legal separation does not preclude you from seeking divorce or annulment later on. You will simply have to file a secondary legal action. The terms of your legal separation will be considered and may be incorporated into your divorce agreement. Unlike divorce, there is no waiting period for legal separation.
How Does It Work?
The process of Michigan legal separation begins with filing a complaint with the circuit court in the county where you live (or where your spouse resides), petitioning the court for a separation agreement that will divide assets and liabilities (debt), as well as issue orders concerning alimony, child custody, and child support. The non-filing spouse must be served a summons.
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Much like a divorce, spouses will have to enter into negotiations regarding the details of the separation, which will ultimately be resolved during a Separate Maintenance Hearing in court. The outcome of this hearing will be a Separation Agreement that is basically a contract of separation.
Because the process of legal separation can be even more complex than divorce in some ways, it’s always a good idea to consider hiring a qualified lawyer to represent your best interests, advise you, and ensure all legal requirements are met.
Why Seek Legal Separation Michigan?
There are several reasons why a couple might be interested in legal separation instead of divorce. Some religions, for example, do not sanction divorce, and people that want to remain in good standing in terms of their religious beliefs and their religious community may find themselves in a difficult position if the marriage is over in all but name. Separate maintenance provides a solution that allows people to end a failed union and physically and legally separate from a spouse without having to compromise religious beliefs.
There are also financial reasons for seeking legal separation. Some couples do it to continue enjoying the tax breaks often associated with filing jointly. In other cases, one spouse needs to continue using insurance offered through the other spouse’s employment (although it’s always best to make sure coverage will continue following a legal separation).
Drawbacks to Legal Separation
There are a couple of potential drawbacks to legal separation, as opposed to divorce. First and foremost, neither spouse can remarry while involved in separate maintenance since they are still legally married and the outcome would be bigamy (which is illegal). Second, if children are born during legal separation, the spouse is considered to be the legal parent, regardless of biological parentage, and this can be a complicated situation.
In addition, it’s important to understand that marital assets and debts can still accrue. If one spouse racks up a lot of debt and fails to pay, creditors may come after the other spouse for repayment, even though you are legally separated.
You must carefully consider whether or not a separation agreement Michigan is right for you. It’s always best to do some research and speak with a qualified family lawyer to ensure the best possible outcome when your marriage is no longer viable.