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Michigan Legal Separation
Legal Separation in Michigan

Legal separation in Michigan is called Separate Maintenance, which applies when the couple no longer lives together and the marriage is probably irreparably broken. A Separate Maintenance filing asks the court to divide the property and debts of the couple, and make determinations regarding child support, child custody and spousal support, without terminating the marriage.

Couples choose separate maintenance in lieu of divorce for religious, insurance or tax reasons. The process for separate maintenance is similar to a divorce. Once all marital issues are resolved, the court issues a judgment governing the rights and responsibilities of each party.

In the separation filing, the plaintiff requests property division, alimony, child support and custody. The defendant responds, and if the time period for filing an answer passes, the separation begins.

In Michigan, alimony is available in both separation and divorce actions. The court awards it on either a temporary or permanent basis, paid in a lump sum or periodically.

The court establishes a custody and child support order as part of the separation action when children are involved. Michigan recognizes both legal and physical custody, which the parents can share, or the court can award both or either to just one parent, but normally, Michigan courts award parents shared legal custody and one parent physical custody. The court decides custody based on the best interests of a child, which means consideration of the relationship between the child and each parent, the ability of each parent to care for the child, the child's preference, mental and physical health of all parties, and any history of domestic violence.

Once all marital issues are resolved, the court issues a judgment of separate maintenance. If the spouses resolve all marital issues by a settlement agreement, the court incorporates this agreement into the judgment as long as it finds the terms satisfactory.

In separate maintenance, there is no waiting period. However, in a separate maintenance judgment, neither spouse can remarry. If the couple later divorce, they must start a new divorce action, but the court normally incorporates the terms and conditions of the separation judgment into the divorce judgment.

Separation Agreement

A separation agreement is a legal binding contract signed by spouses, which is intended to resolve property, debt and child related issues. This can be a very complex and detailed document depending upon the unique situation of the marriage. Many spouses consult an attorney to provide this or they decide to prepare their own.


The process begins by filing the petition in the circuit court of the county where either spouse lives. The petition asks the court to divide marital assets and liabilities and issue orders for child custody, child support and spousal support.


According to Michigan Complied Laws Annotated Section 552.7, breakdown of the marriage is the only grounds available for a legal separation and separate maintenance. The marriage must have failed to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood the marriage can be preserved. Irreconcilable differences are the only reason for the separation or divorce.


In a separate maintenance filing, the petitioner is required to live in Michigan or his or her county of residence for any specified period of time.


After filing a Petition for Separate Maintenance at the District Court Clerk's office and paying the fees, any adult over age 18, a certified process server, or the Sheriff, can serve the spouse with the Petition and Summons for Separate Maintenance

Any issues between the spouses regarding marital assets, debts, and child custody are resolved at a Separate Maintenance Hearing, and the judge will grant Separate Maintenance.


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