Under Michigan law, married couples who wish to separate from each other without filing for divorce may file an action for separate maintenance. Most commonly, separate maintenance orders are sought when one or both parties holds a religious objection to divorce.
Historically, parties have used decrees of separate maintenance in an attempt to continue health care benefits for both parties. However, many employers and insurance companies now consider the entry of a Judgment of Separate Maintenance to be a disqualifying event, just as the entry of a Judgment of Divorce. If your primary reason for considering a Judgment of Separate Maintenance in lieu of divorce is to maintain health or other insurance benefits, you would be well advised to confer with your individual insurer’s plan before seeking such an action and/or a Michigan family law attorney.
The Mechanics of Seeking Separate Maintenance
According to MCL 552.7, an action for separate maintenance in Michigan is filed in the same manner, and upon the same grounds, as an action for divorce. Additionally, the same residency requirements apply.
In an action for Separate Maintenance, the Courts can issue orders regarding the care, custody and support of children, as well as orders regarding property distribution and spousal support, just as in cases for divorce. The most notable difference between a Judgment of Divorce and a Judgment of Separate Maintenance is that, following the entry of a Separate Maintenance judgment, the parties are still legally married, and are thus unable to re-marry another.
If the Plaintiff files a complaint for separate maintenance, but the Defendant files a counterclaim for divorce, the action will automatically convert to an action for divorce, and will result in a Judgment of Divorce.