Divorce and Property Rights in Michigan

By Elizabeth Rayne

Understanding the rules for property division in a divorce in Michigan may help you to know what to expect before going to court and provide you with tools to negotiate your own property settlement to avoid trial. All marital property may be divided between the spouses, and Michigan courts strive to divide the property equitably. Fault does not come up when determining the grounds for divorce, but the court may consider fault when figuring out how to fairly divide the marital property.

Grounds for Divorce

Michigan allows for divorce only on the grounds that the marriage is irrevocably broken with no likelihood that the relationship can be preserved. The state laws are purely no-fault, meaning that neither spouse is assigned blame for the breakdown of the marriage. Although fault of either spouse does not come up when asserting grounds for divorce, the court may consider marital fault when it comes to property division, particularly if the marital misconduct affected the marital assets. For example, if one spouse's gambling or drug use caused the divorce, the court may award less property to the spouse who placed the financial burden on the marriage.

Settlement Agreement

As an alternative to going to court and having a judge determine the property division, many couples reach a settlement agreement. The couple has the right to decide the terms of the divorce on their own, including the division of marital assets and debt. Where a couple cannot decide, the property division will be decided by the court according to state law.

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Equitable Distribution

When it is up to the court to determine the distribution of property in a divorce, Michigan courts follow the principal of equitable distribution. With equitable distribution, the property may be divided equally, but will be adjusted based on what the court deems would be fair and just for each spouse. The court will look at a number of factors to determine what would be equitable: the contributions each spouse made toward the property, each spouse's earning capabilities and each spouse's conduct during the marriage. The court will also consider the length of the marriage and how long one spouse may have depended on the support of the other, as a more financially dependent spouse may receive more property. If the court finds it relevant, it may consider the fault of either spouse in causing the divorce.

Separate and Marital Property

Michigan courts distinguish between separate property and marital property. Separate property is anything that either spouse owned before entering into the marriage, as well as property acquired during the marriage if it was given to one spouse as a gift or an inheritance. On the other hand, marital property is acquired during the marriage, generally by any means other than gifts or inheritance. Property that one spouse earns through employment may be considered marital property. Additionally, property that was at one point separate property may be transmuted into marital property if it is commingled with marital property. For example, a gift of cash to one spouse is considered separate property until she deposits the gift into the spouses' joint bank account, at which point the property is commingled and becomes marital property. In a divorce, separate property stays with the spouse who owns it, while only marital property is up for equitable distribution.

Types of Property

The types of property up for dispute in a divorce may include everything from the marital home to retirement plans. Marital property may include personal property, such as furniture and cars, as well as debt entered into during the marriage. All disputed property may be valued so that the court can determine an equitable distribution. If the couple owns a business, the spouses may determine the fair market value of the business, so that it may be divided between the spouses or offset by other awards of property.

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