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Mediation’s Role In Legal Separation Cases

Legal separation is a situation where parties decide to end their relationship but choose not to divorce. Michigan attorneys and mediators are frequently asked about “legal separation.” The State of Michigan does not have an action called “legal separation” where spouses file a paper and are immediately legally separated. In Michigan, legal separation is referred to as “separate maintenance.”

Separate maintenance applies when the couple no longer lives together and the marriage is irreparably broken. In these situations, parties divide their assets and live separate lives, while leaving the marriage intact. A separate maintenance filing asks the court to divide the property and debts of the couple, and make determinations regarding child support, child custody and spousal support, without terminating the marriage. Spouses may choose to separate but preserve their marriage when religious or immigration issues are involved or so that one spouse can continue to keep the other spouse on health insurance. Separating but preserving the marriage also allows parties to continue to file a joint tax return.


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The procedures for divorce and separate maintenance are almost identical. The filing and residency requirements are the same. The procedures for division of property, child and spousal support, and child custody are also the same. Spouses still need to determine how to divide their assets, create a parenting time schedule, and establish spousal and child support. Alimony is available in both separation and divorce actions. The court awards it on either a temporary or permanent basis, paid in lump sum or periodically.

The court also establishes a custody and child support order as part of a separation action when children are involved. Michigan recognizes both legal and physical custody, which the parents can share, or the court can award both or either to just one parent.

A separation agreement is a legal binding contract signed by spouses, which is intended to resolve property, debt and child related issues. Once all marital issues are resoled, the court issues a judgment of separate maintenance. Similar to a divorce, if the spouses resolve all marital issues by a settlement agreement through mediation, the court incorporates this agreement into the judgment of separate maintenance as long as it finds the terms satisfactory. Unlike a divorce, in a separate maintenance judgment, neither spouse can remarry. If the couple later divorces, they must start a new divorce action.

In short, the same issues arise in proceedings for separate maintenance as divorce proceedings. For these reasons, mediation can prove as advantageous in a proceeding for separate maintenance as it can in a divorce proceeding. Mediation can save spouses time, money, allow them to retain control of their futures and avoid lengthy litigation proceedings.

Whether filling for separate maintenance or divorce, let Rizer Mediation help you make a difficult time a little less difficult. With guidance, you can resolve legal issues in a way that minimizes emotional stress. Please call today to learn how mediation can help you.