Divorce means you will end your marriage, divide marital assets and debts, determine alimony, if any and possibly determine child custody, parenting time and child support. Legal Separation (Separate Maintenance Action) means you will accomplish the same goals as a divorce, but the end result is that the parties will still married.
Why would a couple want a Legal Separation instead of a Divorce? The following are a few examples of why a couple will seek a Judgment of Separate Maintenance:
a. The couple has a religious objection to divorce;
b. Not considering COBRA, in order for one spouse to have continued health insurance coverage on the other spouse’s insurance plan, the spouses stay married, but legally divide everything else;
c. The parties are not for sure that they want a divorce or to end the marriage, so they protect themselves from the actions of the other spouse. Such actions may be increasing credit card debt, liquidating bank accounts, obtaining liens on collateral, etc.; and
d. A husband or wife may want to protect his or her assets from the other spouse. If a spouse expects the net equity of a house to increase substantially or he or she may acquire a new asset in the future or expects to receive an inheritance in the near future, a Legal Separation may be the answer.
An action for a Legal Separation is not common in Michigan. Most couples file for divorce because usually at that point the relationship has deteriorated too much. Likewise, if you obtain a Judgment of Separate Maintenance and want to be divorced later, you will have to start the divorce process all over again if you want to be divorced from your spouse.