Michigan Law on Divorce Settlements

By Beverly Bird

Michigan is one of the few states where judges can consider marital misconduct when dividing property in a divorce. Spouses can avoid a judge taking fault into consideration at trial by negotiating their own divorce settlement, called a property settlement agreement in Michigan. However, Michigan law regarding these settlements is somewhat complicated.

Court Approval

You can draft a property settlement agreement and submit it in written form to the court, or you and your spouse can appear in court and tell the judge the terms of your agreement. Under most circumstances, the judge will approve it. Now you -- or your attorney -- have a choice to make. You can merge your agreement with your divorce judgment in Michigan, or you can let it stand as a separate legal document. Your divorce judgment includes language indicating whether your agreement merges with it.

Merged Vs. Not Merged

If you merge your settlement agreement with your divorce judgment, your judgment is the legal document that sets the terms of your divorce. If you don't merge it, your property settlement agreement is a contract. Both are binding on you and your spouse, and both are enforceable, but in different ways and with different limitations. Michigan divorce courts do not have jurisdiction over your agreement if you don't merge it with your judgment -- they can't make any further rulings regarding it.

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If you don't merge your settlement agreement with your judgment, and if your spouse doesn't abide by the terms of your agreement, you would have to enforce it in civil court as a legally biding contract. If you merge it, you can go back to family court if your spouse doesn't pay child support or alimony, or if he refuses to honor any other terms of your agreement.

Changing Your Agreement

As a contract, a property settlement agreement is virtually unmodifiable. The court can't legally change terms that you and your spouse agreed to. Exceptions exist only if the agreement includes a clerical error, such as a typo that changes its meaning, or in cases of fraud, such as if you or your spouse lied about something that materially affects the agreement. However, if you merge your agreement with your judgment, a family court judge can modify its terms. If your circumstances change and the terms of your agreement are no longer appropriate for you and your family, you can ask a family court judge to alter them.

Statutes of Limitations

Michigan law allows you to go back to civil court to break or undo your contractual agreement for up to six years. If you discover your spouse hid assets, you can reopen your settlement agreement in civil court until this statute of limitations expires. However, if you merge your agreement with your judgment, you only have 18 months to raise issues of fraud.

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