Separate Maintenance (Legal Separation)

Sometimes when clients are ambivalent about filing for divorce they ask me if Michigan recognizes legal separation. The answer is no; but our state does have a procedure known as separate maintenance, which is sometimes utilized in cases where one or both spouses are opposed to divorce on moral or religious grounds. In such an action, the same jurisdictional requirements and standard of proving breakdown of the marriage relationship must be met. A judgment of separate maintenance accomplishes everything a judgment of divorce does, except for dissolution of the marriage. A judgment of separate maintenance divides marital property, addresses child custody, parenting time, child support and spousal support. The only difference is that the people are still married. If the defendant in a separate maintenance action counterclaims for divorce, a judgment of divorce will be granted.

Occasionally, someone will seek a judgment of separate maintenance in an effort to stay “technically married” in order to remain on a spouse’s health insurance coverage. I do not recommend this approach, as insurance companies have become wise to the practice and have refined the contractual language in their policies to specifically reference legal separation or separate maintenance as a disqualifying event.

Filing a complaint for divorce can serve as a means of legal separation, as it gives the court jurisdiction to divide responsibilities for paying marital expenses and debt while establishing temporary parenting time, child support and spousal support until the divorce is final.

A judgment of separate maintenance can provide that either party may file a motion to convert the judgment of separate maintenance to one of absolute divorce should either ex-spouse desire to do so.