Separate Maintenance as an Alternative to Divorce

Couples whose marriages are broken beyond repair but who do not wish to divorce have another option: separate maintenance. This is Michigan’s version of a legal separation. A judgment of separate maintenance means that the spouses have split up and have resolved their financial and parenting issues but have not severed the bonds of marriage.

There are varied reasons why couples whose relationship has otherwise ended might prefer to stay legally married. They may have religious or cultural beliefs that disfavor divorce. Separate maintenance is also a way to continue with co-ownership of marital property, which is sometimes more advantageous than selling and dividing it. Other motives for pursuing separate maintenance could be keeping one spouse covered under the other spouse’s health insurance plan or preserving a spouse’s share of pension or retirement benefits or rights in a will, trust or life insurance policy.

An action for separate maintenance is similar to a divorce proceeding. One spouse files a complaint in court and the other files an answer. If both spouses agree that separate maintenance is the goal, they and their lawyers set out to resolve issues of property division, spousal support, child support, child custody and visitation. The lawyers then prepare an agreement that details the parties’ respective rights and obligations. The agreement is presented to the court and, if approved, is incorporated into a final judgment. Alternatively, if the spouse answering the complaint files a counterclaim for divorce, the case will proceed on that track.

Since separate maintenance requires resolution of many of the same issues presented in a divorce, the proceeding can be just as complex and, at times, contentious. This points to the need for an experienced Michigan family law attorney who can make sure your rights are protected.

The downside to separate maintenance is that neither spouse can remarry. However, an agreement of separate maintenance can serve as a blueprint for a future divorce. Michigan court rules permit a separated spouse to seek an uncontested divorce using the separate maintenance agreement as the basis for deciding property and parenting rights and responsibilities. Although the other spouse may lodge objections, the existing agreement is given great weight by the court.

Shatzman & Shatzman represents Shelby Township and Chesterfield Township clients in divorce, separate maintenance and other family law matters. Please call 586-800-3018 or contact us online to arrange a free consultation at our Rochester Hills or St. Clair Shores location.