Question: A Northville Patch reader asked: “What is the difference between a legal separation and a divorce?”
Answer: In Michigan, a legal separation is the same as a divorce, except that you are married afterward.
One common question that is often asked is whether or not Michigan has what is called a legal separation, allowing a married couple to legally separate, but still remain married.
The simple answer is yes, but the procedure is not so simple. Michigan has a legal action called separate maintenance. An action for separate maintenance is filed with the court just as a divorce action is filed. The process for a separate maintenance action is identical to that of a divorce. In a separate maintenance action, just as in a divorce action, the couple must decide on how they are going to distribute their assets, share their debt, determine child support & spousal support, and also address how assets are purchased and debt is acquired in the future.
At the end of a separate maintenance action, a judgment of separate maintenance is entered with the court, and the couple is officially legally separated. This means that all property and debt has been divided, but the party is still legally married.
Why would a couple proceed with a separate maintenance action instead of a divorce? The most common reasons are religious and medical. Some people opt for a separate maintenance action because divorce is frowned upon or prohibited in their religion. Some people truly need the medical insurance of their spouse and cannot obtain insurance on their own. For these people, they essentially become “divorced” but still remain married.
What happens if you go through the entire separate maintenance action and then decide later that you want to become divorced? You have to file a divorce action with the court and start from the beginning.
Separate maintenance actions are not very common in Michigan, but it is the only legal avenue in Michigan that allows a couple to split all assets, share all debt, live independently, but still remain married. It is the only way for a couple to become legally separated.
The information provided in this column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public website is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this website. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of law and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Reading the information contained in this column does not mean that you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Wendy Alton or the law firm of Fausone Bohn. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the website without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.