Will a legal separation shield you from joint marital debts?

On behalf of Bebout, Potere, Cox & Bennion, P.C. posted in divorce on Tuesday, May 30, 2017.

A recent article illustrates that, for many readers, confusion may still exist over the distinctions between legal separation and divorce. Under Michigan law, the two events are separate procedures.

Specifically, a legal action called separate maintenance allows a married couple to formally divide their marital property, joint debts, and determine issues of spousal and/or child support and parenting time. Although this process is similar to a divorce, there are important distinctions.

Depending on the context, an order for separate maintenance does not necessarily provide a buffer to the marital estate. Said another way, a couple technically remains married after the action, which may give rise to inconsistent interpretations.

For example, if a spouse were to incur additional debt, a creditor may regard that debt as the joint liability of both spouses. On the other hand, a health insurance provider may regard the procedure as a life event warranting the termination of coverage. If a spouse enters into a new relationship and has children, the law still regards the other spouse as the legal parent.

Both parties must also agree to an action for separate maintenance. For example, a spouse who is served with a complaint for separate maintenance might counterclaim for divorce. In that event, the court might convert the separate maintenance action into a divorce proceeding.

There may be reasons for pursuing a legal separation, such as religious views or the hope of reconciling at a later date. Our Michigan family law firm can help you weigh the options and determine which legal course will best suit your needs.

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