In Michigan a legal separation is called separate maintenance. A legal separation is not the same as divorce. The spouses stay married, but they divide up their property, determine child custody, and pay spousal and child support as though they had been divorced. In fact, the grounds for an action for separate maintenance in Michigan are the same as those for divorce.
Filing for Separate Maintenance
If one spouse wants a legal separation, he can file an action for separate maintenance under Michigan Code section 552.7. The plaintiff has to use specific language: “There has been a breakdown in the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.” The defendant can admit or deny this statement, but cannot make any other allegations. The defendant may file a counterclaim for divorce on the same grounds. If the court finds there has been a breakdown of the marriage, it will enter a Judgment for Separate Maintenance or will grant a divorce if the defendant has asked for one. In other words, a legal separation can only happen in Michigan if both parties agree, and either spouse can choose divorce instead.
Issues Involving Children
Parents who are entering into a legal separation have to resolve issues of child custody, visitation and support in the same way as couples who are divorcing. The parents have to enter into a parenting plan that is approved by the court as being in the best interests of the child. If the parents cannot agree, Michigan law requires the county to provide them with mediation services or some other form of alternative dispute resolution to work out the details.
Property and Alimony
Michigan is an equitable distribution state, which means that the court will divide the property between the spouses fairly, if not equally. The court can also order either spouse to pay alimony to the other party. This order may be for temporary alimony during the proceedings or for long-term alimony. These laws apply in the same way to both divorces and legal actions for separate maintenance.