It is important to understand the difference between divorce and separation. In Michigan there are two paths you can take when looking at separating from your wife. You can file for divorce, or you can file a complaint for separate maintenance. Separation is not what most people think it means in Michigan, but in other states it has different meanings. In other states you may be required to live separately for a specific period of time before you can even get divorced. In Michigan there is no such requirement. In Michigan, separation would be just like pursuing a divorce only it would be called legal separation.
One difference between the two is that, at the end of a divorce case, you get a judgment of divorce completed and signed by all people involved and the judge, and a judge grants a divorce and ends your marriage. At the end of a legal separation case, you sign a judgment of separation maintenance and that is entered with the court, and you are still legally married, but you do go your separate ways.
Legal separation, also known as separate maintenance, is going to be exactly like a divorce in every way except at the end you are still legally married. You will go through the same process, cost, waiting period, pretty much the same everything as a divorce but you continue to be legally married. A common question, then, is why would someone go through the process of divorce and not get divorced? There are a few different reasons that you might choose to do this. One example is because of health insurance coverage. You may be wanting to go your separate ways, but are not planning to remarry, and you want to keep your health insurance benefits the same as they are now. You may have coverage under your spouse and cannot afford to change that, or just do not want to change that coverage. You can, then, file a complaint for separate maintenance and then go through a judgment of separate maintenance, and you’re still legally married. Remaining legally married but separating, most of the time, is going to mean that you can keep your health insurance benefits intact after you separate, instead of losing your coverage because you are divorced. The premise here is that, after you get divorced, you can no longer be covered under your spouse’s health insurance because, at that point, you are no longer legally related to each other. You go through the whole process, you divide up everything: finances, custody, parenting time or whatever it might be that you’re dealing with and you’re done. But then at the end your wife could still stay on your health insurance policy because you continue to be legally married. Of course you will want to check in with your human resources department or health insurance provider first to see if your health insurance coverage will continue after you separate, so long as you don’t get divorced. That’s one reason why someone might pursue a separate maintenance case.
Another reason to file for separate maintenance instead of filing for divorce could be that you cannot get divorced because of religious reasons. But you are going your separate ways and need to divide up your assets and debts and address issues such as custody, parenting time and child support.
It is important to point out that nobody can force you to do separate maintenance, if you want a divorce, you get one. If your wife files a complaint for separate maintenance but you want to be divorced, then you can file a response for divorce and she has to do a divorce. There is no way to make you stay married and do a separate maintenance case.
In general, it is a very small part of the population that’s going to ever be doing legal separation instead of divorce, but you might be one of those people. I think there are some misconceptions out there about how you need to separate first or go through a separation as a part of the process. That is not the case in Michigan. You can get divorced if you’ve been living apart for years, you can get divorced if you’re living together, you could be living together up until the very end of the divorce process. There’s no requirement to live apart and no requirement to separate to get divorced in Michigan.