Many people may be familiar with divorces involving celebrities or other public figures based on “irreconcilable differences” through the news. However, recognizing such broad grounds for divorces was a relatively recent development in American legal history.
Prior to the sweeping family law reforms of the late twentieth century, states only granted divorces under particular, sometimes extreme, circumstances. Now most states acknowledge “no-fault” divorce, either repealing the historic fault-based grounds or minimizing the need to prove such grounds in divorces today.
No-fault divorce was only a recent development in the United States. Historically, many states required the petitioner to allege and prove specific grounds to obtain a divorce. Such grounds typically involved some sort of misconduct or other circumstance that interfered with or frustrated the purpose of marriage. Some states still require parties to prove fault in order be granted a divorce in addition to no-fault-based grounds.
Fault-based grounds for divorce included:
- Abandonment or separation
In the 1970’s Michigan was one of the first states to abolish fault-based divorce. The legislature and courts determined that couples would not only allege fault-based grounds, but also include “no-fault” grounds as a catch-all claim. This was viewed as redundant and unnecessary. Further, the line of thinking was that requiring a party to prove such grounds for divorce led to unnecessary litigation and even caused people to be trapped in unhealthy or unsafe marriages.
As a no-fault divorce jurisdiction, per Michigan’s Compiled Laws § 552.6, a judge will grant divorce simply based upon a finding that there has been a“breakdown of 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.” Thus, all the party seeking a divorce must prove is that he or she no longer wishes to be married. The law still encourages reconciliation—especially where there are children involved. In part to make sure the parties truly want to go through with a divorce, there is a 60 day waiting period between the date of filing and the date a judgment can be entered in cases without minor chidren and a 180 day waiting period in cases with children. At the same time, the no-fault law means that one party cannot hold up the divorce because she doesn’t want it. Courts also don’t require mandatory counseling as a condition to granting a divorce except in rare cases in order to improve their ability to co-parent the children. While the person being served with a divorce can let the judge know they don’t want to be divorced it will not stop a divorce from being granted.
Divorce terminates the valid marital contract between spouses. In contrast, annulments provide relief in cases of illegal or otherwise legally invalid marriages.
An invalid marriage involves circumstances where there is some legal defect regarding its formation. When the parties do not meet the formal requirements of marriage, the relationship may be considered void or voidable.
Under Michigan law, a marriage is considered void under various circumstances including:
- Consanguinity or affinity: marriage between blood relatives
- Bigamy: one or both of the parties was already married
A marriage is considered voidable when a party files and action and can prove one of the following:
- Lack of contractual capacity: a spouse was not of sound mind and judgment to get married (whether it be mental illness, intoxication, or impaired judgment from another substance)
- Fraud: the misrepresentation of material facts with the intent to induce someone into entering into marriage.
- Duress: using violence or the threat of violence to cause someone to enter into marriage
In annulment cases, the law views the parties as having never been married. As a result, the legal duties of marriage never applied. Thus, neither party can claim a share of the other’s assets or be expected to pay the other’s debts and there can be no alimony obligation.
It is important to understand, however, that if a party cannot establish that the marriage is void under the law, getting the court to annul the marriage is quite difficult. This is because there is a legal presumption in favor of the marriage being deemed valid, especially where the parties have children. It is important to have a thorough consultation with an experienced attorney before going down this path as opposed to a divorce.
When an annulment is granted there is no need for a divorce proceeding. And yet parties still have assets, debts and children together. The financial issues would need to be resolved outside of court or in a civil action. This is particularly complicated with jointly owned real estate. Issues of custody, parenting time and support would need to be addressed in a complaint for custody.
Contact American Divorce Association for Men (ADAM) for Skilled Legal Counsel
If you are looking for legal advice regarding divorce or annulment issues, you should get in touch with an experienced attorney from the American Divorce Association for Men. The legal team at ADAM is uniquely qualified to represent your interests in all family law matters, including divorce and annulments.
Call us at or contact us online for a free consultation regarding your legal options today.