One of the customary marriage vows that a married couple pledges during their wedding ceremony involves a commitment to maintaining their union “until death do us part.” Vows like that signify the significance of the bond between married spouses. Although everyone understands that the bonds of marriage aren’t only broken by the passing of a spouse, there are only a couple other ways of legally ending a marriage: divorce and annulment. In short, divorce terminates a valid marriage whereas an annulment is a finding that the marriage was either invalid on its face or invalid due to extenuating circumstances.
Dissolving the Marriage by Divorce
Marriage is a legally recognized relationship between two individuals from which certain legal rights and responsibilities arise. Among the legal duties that results from a legal marriage is the duty of spouses to financially support each other. Among the legal rights that stem from the marital relationship is the right to inherit the estate of the deceased spouse’s estate absent a valid will, under Michigan law involving intestate succession.
Because marriage is a legally recognized relationship, ending that relationship through divorce involves specific legal and procedural requirements.
To get a divorce in Michigan, a person must meet the following requirements:
- Residency: At least one of the parties must have resided in Michigan for 180 days before filing for divorce, and at least one party must have resided for 10 days in the county in which the divorce was filed.
- Defendant domicile: The spouse who did not file for divorce—known as the defendant—was domiciled in Michigan when either the divorce was filed or the cause for divorce arose. If the defendant lives outside Michigan, the defendant can voluntarily appear for proceedings or must otherwise be served with process in Michigan.
- Breakdown of the marriage: The party filing for divorce—known as the Plaintiff—must allege that there was a breakdown of the marriage with no reasonable chance of reconciliation — this allegation can be made by submitting a sworn statement claiming that such a breakdown occurred.
After filing a complaint about divorce, the defendant must submit a formal response with the court. In their formal response, the defendant can either agree to the allegations and move forward with divorce proceedings, or deny the allegations. The defendant is not required to elaborate as to why they have denied the allegations.
Under Michigan law, there is a sixty-day cooling-off period between the time a divorce complaint was filed, and when the parties can enter a Judgment of Divorce. When there are minor children involved this statutory waiting period is 180 days. This cooling-off period is designed to give the parties time to consider their situation and to potentially avoid making a rash legal decision about their marriage they would later regret.
A judgment of divorce includes a determination of custody, parenting time and support, a division of the assets and liabilities of the parties and certain statutory provisions severing the marital relationship.
Nullifying the Marriage by Annulment
In certain situations, a marriage can “end” using annulment proceedings. However, unlike divorce, an annulment involves a marriage that is considered void or “voidable.” In annulment cases, a marriage is considered void or voidable because one of the legal requirements to form a valid marriage wasn’t satisfied. As a result, annulment proceedings treat the marriage as if it never existed in the first place.
As a result, certain marital rights and responsibilities might never have been established. However, in some cases, a court might use principles of equity to impose certain marital rights—such as in marriages where a party reasonably relied on the marriage’s validity to their detriment.
Unlike divorces, an action for annulment does impose a length of residency requirement, nor does it require an allegation as to the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Furthermore, there is no cooling-off period between filing an annulment and submitting proof and testimony to the court.
If an annulment is granted and the parties have minor children it may be necessary to file a separate action for custody, parenting time and support. If the parties own property jointly and an annulment is granted they may need to resort to civil court for a determination of the disposition of that property. With an annulment there will be no alimony granted to either party, insofar as there has been a finding that a valid marriage never occurred. Michigan is not one of the states that recognizes so-called “palimony,” which is court ordered support for a non-married person in a long term relationship.
However, an annulment lawsuit must demonstrate why the marriage is invalid. Michigan courts have held that a marriage is void or voidable in certain situations, including:
- Bigamy: The law prohibits individuals from getting married to more than one person. As a result, a marriage is void if one or more spouses was still married to another person at the time they got married.
- Incompetency: Only two consenting adults of sound mind can form a marriage. Therefore, if one of the spouses was mentally incapacitated, so they were not of sound mind when they decided to get married, the marriage is void. This may apply when one or both parties were intoxicated or under the influence of another drug at the time of the wedding.
- Marriage to a minor: In Michigan, only individuals who are at least 18 years old may get married. Therefore, a marriage involving a minor is considered void, unless the minor was at least sixteen years old when married, and their parents consented to the marriage.
- Lack of consent: Because one of the required elements of a valid marriage is consent, facts involving fraud, duress, and force can support an annulment because those situations tend to negate the necessary consent for a valid marriage.
Note that none of these grounds include how long a marriage lasts. Whether it is a one month or 10 year marriage, in most cases a divorce is needed to end it.
Unless the marriage is void for reasons such as the first 3 of these, an annulment can often be more difficult to obtain than a divorce. This is because there is a presumption in favor of a valid marriage--especially where there are minor children involved. A judge would need to hold an evidentiary hearing, i.e., a trial, in order to make findings of this nature. This is as opposed to a divorce where all the judge has to determine is that one party wants out and there is not chance of reconciliation—which does not require litigation.
For Answers to Your Legal Questions, Call the American Divorce Association for Men
Do you have legal concerns about a family law matter in Michigan, such as divorce or annulment? For quality legal counsel from an experienced divorce attorney, contact the American Divorce Association for Men (ADAM). Our legal team is dedicated to guiding you through challenging legal issues and advocating for your legal interests in divorces and other family law matters.
Contact ADAM online or call us at (248) 327-0050 for a free initial consultation about your case today.