Friday, February 18, 2011

Legal Separation v. Divorce

by Wendy Alton

Legal Separation (Separate Maintenance) in Michigan is essentially a divorce while still being married.

“What is the difference between a legal separation and a divorce?”

Answer: A legal separation is like getting divorced, but still remaining married.”

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 entitled “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, meaning 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 again.

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.

If you are interested in learning more about separate maintenance, divorce or family law, please call Wendy Alton at 248-380-9976 or email her at

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