Separation vs. Divorce in Michigan

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

Separation vs. Divorce in Michigan

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

When ending a marriage, couples in Michigan can choose to separate or divorce. The State of Michigan, however, does not permit legal separations as other states do. Instead, while living apart, couples can ask the court for separate maintenance. Although the processes for separate maintenance and divorce are similar, in a separate maintenance action, the couple remains legally married. In divorce, the court terminates the marriage, allowing each spouse to re-marry if they so choose.

Woman and man sitting on opposite ends of a couch

Here are the differences between separate maintenance and divorce in Michigan.

Process of Separate Maintenance

To file a separate maintenance action with the court, you'll need to satisfy the state's residency requirements. This means one spouse must have lived in Michigan for more than 180 days and more than 10 days in the county where the spouse files the request.

Additionally, in the request, you must state the reason for the divorce and claim that your marriage is irretrievably broken. Because Michigan is a no-fault state, it does not matter if one spouse contributed to the divorce more than another. In other words, neither spouse is at fault. However, if one spouse committed adultery or engaged in other bad behavior, those actions can contribute to the court's decision about how to divide property or award spousal support.

If you are the one filing the request, you must notify your spouse of the court process. Be sure to check with your local county courthouse for the specific rules on how to do so. Your spouse can then respond to the separate maintenance filing.

Michigan law requires a waiting period before the court can hear a request for separate maintenance. If you don't have children, the waiting period is 30 days. For couples with children, the waiting period extends to 180 days.

Just as in a divorce, if you and your spouse agree on the division of property, spousal support, child support, and visitation, then you can enter a separation agreement for the judge to sign. However, if you cannot agree on these matters, the judge decides. The court enters a final order outlining the both of your rights and responsibilities.

Unlike other states, if you decide to proceed with a divorce, you cannot convert the separation. You must begin the divorce process from the beginning, adding more time and expense to the process. If you decide to reconcile, you can ask the court to dismiss your separation.

Process of Divorce

In Michigan, the divorce process is similar to the separation maintenance, except that the court terminates the marriage. The same no-fault rules apply to divorce. For the residency requirements, if you don't have children, you must wait 60 days, not 30. Additionally, if you do have children, you must wait 180 days before the judge hears the case.

To begin the process, file a divorce complaint with your local county courthouse and notify your spouse in writing of the claim. If you expect your divorce to be complicated or otherwise difficult, you may want to engage a skilled family lawyer to help through the process.

Like separate maintenance, if both you and your spouse agree on the division of property, spousal support, child support, and visitation, then you can enter into a settlement agreement to present to the judge for approval. However, if you cannot agree, then the court decides these issues. The judge then enters a final divorce order outlining your rights and responsibilities.

Reasons for Separate Maintenance over Divorce

Many reasons exist for a couple to pursue separate maintenance over divorce. For example, you may have religious reasons not to divorce or perhaps you want to take advantage of specific tax or other financial benefits. Additionally, you may want to remain legally married for health insurance reasons or the benefit of your children.

In Michigan, when deciding to end a marriage, it's helpful to take time to determine the best course of action for your family. Because a separation cannot be converted into a divorce, it should not be thought of as the first step to a divorce.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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