Like other states, Michigan has a law that allows married couples to receive some protection from court if they want to live in separate yet remain legally married.
Although this often gets referred to as legal separation, Michigan law calls this separate maintenance.
Separate maintenance in many respects works like a divorce. If a couple does not agree on these issues, then a judge will decide child custody and support as well as alimony. The court will also address property division unless the couple agrees on how they will manage their assets and debts.
There are important differences with respect to separate maintenance
The most important difference between separate maintenance and divorce is that the parties remain legally married and, thus, are not free to marry again under Michigan law.
Another feature about separate maintenance is that, while the case is pending, either side can convert the case to a divorce just by asking.
After the case gets decided, though, divorce is still possible, but the separate maintenance decision will continue to apply.
This means that if, for example, one spouse received the family home as part of the separate maintenance case, the other spouse cannot just use a new divorce case to try to reverse that decision.
There are advantages and disadvantages to separate maintenance cases
Those who have moral or religious objections to divorce, or who may just not be ready to take that life-altering step, may find a separate maintenance case a good solution.
However, people should be aware that there are financial and other risks to separate maintenance. For one, separate maintenance may not prevent a health insurer or other insurer from dropping the coverage of a non-employee spouse.
Separate maintenance is a legal option for those in the Detroit area, and people who are interested should speak to an experienced family law attorney about it.