You Need To Understand Your State’s Divorce Laws

You Need To Understand Your State’s Divorce Laws

Deciding to end your marriage can be uncomfortable and emotionally trying. Your relationship is over and you know you need to divorce, but the mechanics of actually obtaining a divorce can be intimidating.

The uncertainty and confusion can be increased by the fact that divorce is a state law matter. Each one of the 50 states and the District of Columbia has their own divorce laws and procedure. A divorce in Michigan will not be the same as one from Illinois or Ohio, and if you have moved to the Detroit area after living in another state and marrying there, what you may have learned of that state’s divorce laws may not help you understand Michigan’s law and procedure.

Some states require that you have lived in the state for six months, a year or even longer. Then, there are states that demand you wait an additional period before they grant a divorce. This period may be based on a “date of separation,” which may be determined differently in different states. Michigan demands you have been a resident for 180 preceding the filing of your divorce action.

Michigan is a “no fault” divorce state, meaning you can copy the statutory language that alleges your marriage relationship has been “destroyed” and cannot be preserved. While all states now permit no-fault filing, some still allow a fault-based divorce as an option.

Property division is another area where there is a great deal of variance between states. Some states are “community property” while others use “equitable distribution.” Many states distinguish between “marital property” which are assets that were acquired during the marriage from “separate property.” Separate property is typically assets that one had prior to the marriage or specific gifts or an inheritance.

In some states, using separate property in the marriage converts it into marital property. In Michigan, appreciation of separate property that occurs during a marriage is subject to division as marital property.

Property is divided in an “equitable” fashion in Michigan, meaning fairly, but not necessary equally. A spouse with lower earning ability may be awarded more assets to make up for the fact that he or she will not be able to earn income equal to that of the other spouse.

The court examines a multifactor list to determine what is equitable. It is important that you and your attorney work through this list to arrive at the most compelling arguments supporting your prospective property award. Support for a spouse is becoming less common, and is a very complex calculation.

As part of a property settlement, you want to make a complete review of all of your income, assets and debts. It is important to locate and include any debts, as your property division does not alter the contractual rights of your lenders.

If you are jointly on a car or truck loan, it needs to be paid off, otherwise even if your former spouse is using the car, you could be liable for loan debt if they should file a bankruptcy and stop making payments.

It is important to develop a very accurate picture of your marital property. In most states, one common theme is that courts will not allow you to “do over” your property division except in cases where the other spouse engaged in fraud to hide assets. If you make a mistake and fail to account for some asset, retirement account or debt that you should have been aware of, a court is unlikely to reopen your property settlement.

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