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Alternatives to Divorce: Separate Maintenance and Annulment

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    Sometimes people want to end their relationship with their spouse, but do not want a divorce. Some people may be opposed to divorce for religious or other reasons. Separate maintenance and annulment are alternatives to divorce in Michigan, but they are rarely used because they do not meet the needs of most couples.

    Separate Maintenance

    People often talk about “legal separation” as an alternative to divorce. In Michigan, this legal action is called “separate maintenance.” This is a court case between a married couple that can divide property and debt, decide child support, custody, and parenting time, and award spousal support. It is almost the same as divorce, except at the end of the case the couple stays married. Some married people may choose to file for separate maintenance rather than divorce for religious or other reasons.

    There are some downsides to separate maintenance. For example, if your spouse takes on new debt, it may be considered your debt, too. Also, if you both get health insurance from one spouse’s employer, the nonemployee spouse could lose coverage. The order for separate maintenance could count as the kind of “life event” that allows providers to end or deny coverage. Also, in an opposite-sex marriage, the husband will be the legal father of any child born to the wife, even if he is not the true biological father. Michigan law is not clear about what will happen in same-sex marriages with children. Finally, you cannot marry another person unless you get divorced.

    If you file a complaint for separate maintenance, your spouse can file a counterclaim for divorce. If so, the court must treat the case as a divorce. If you finish a separate maintenance action, you will get a final judgment. If you later decide you want to get divorced, you may have to start a new divorce case. The terms of your separate maintenance judgment, such as property division, would still be enforceable. You cannot undo those terms if you file for divorce later.

    Filing for separate maintenance is almost the same as filing for divorce. However, this website cannot help you file for separate maintenance. There are no standard court forms for a separate maintenance case. If you want to file for separate maintenance, you may want to talk to a lawyer. If you need a lawyer and have low income or get public benefits, you may qualify for free legal help. You can use the "Find a Lawyer" section on this page to look for legal help in your area.

    Annulment

    Annulment is another alternative to divorce, but it is not possible very often. A court can “cancel” or annul a marriage if something about the agreement to marry was incorrect or unfair. You can only get an annulment in certain situations. Reasons for annulment are:

    • Bigamy: one of you was still married to another living person when you married each other

    • Incompetence: one of you was not capable of entering into a contract at the time you were married

    • One of you was too young for marriage: to marry in Michigan, you must be at least 18, or 16 with parental consent (this may be different in other states)

    • You and your spouse are close relatives

    • Your spouse forced you into marriage or lied to you about something important to get your agreement to marry

    Changing your mind soon after getting married is not a valid reason for an annulment. Also, annulment is a legal decision about your civil marriage; it is not the same as a religious annulment.

    The result of annulment is the same as divorce: you are no longer married. If there are children or property of the marriage, the order of annulment will cover those issues. This website cannot help you file for annulment. There are no standard court forms for filing for annulment. If you want to file for annulment, you may want to talk to a lawyer. If you need a lawyer and have a low income or get public benefits, you may qualify for free legal help. You can use the "Find a Lawyer" section on this page to look for legal help in your area.