Though divorce rates in the U.S. have been dropping, it is estimated that close to 50% of marriages will still come to an end. This is below a peak in 1981, but still double the rates held in the ‘50s. In Michigan, there are three ways to deliberately end a marriage:
Annulment – This legally states that a marriage never existed. Annulments are rarely granted. Conditions include:
• Biological relationship
• Mental incompetence at the time of marriage
• Being under age for marriage
• Being forced into marriage through threats
Separate maintenance – Commonly known as legal separation, the couple remains married, but wants to keep separate residences, debts, entitlements, or obligations. Legal separations are commonly granted due to religious reasons or for financial benefits, such as taxes or health care.
Divorce – The marriage is legally ended by the court. Households and marriage contracts are severed, and each party is free to marry again. Reasons for divorce are as varied as the couples involved.
Like several states, Michigan has a “pure no-fault” divorce law. This means that the parties do not need to explain why they are seeking a divorce, except that one of them decides they don’t want to be married anymore. The party wishing to divorce must claim a “breakdown of the marriage, causing objects of matrimony to be destroyed such that there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.” Furthermore, the party who did not consent to the divorce proceedings has no legal way in which to contest the divorce. In most other states with a no-fault law, if one of the parties contests the proceedings, the other must show that there are grounds for a divorce.
No-fault can seem like a pleasant way to end a marriage. With both parties consenting, they can get on with their lives, perhaps even in an amiable manner. But if there are issues of child custody, property division, or spousal support, a no-fault divorce proceeding can quickly turn ugly. In this case, the law may examine who is to blame and just where the fault lies, and the parties may wind up in court in a protracted case eating up time and money.
Recent Proposed Changes
Believing that no-fault laws create a higher incidence of divorce, and perhaps divorces for absolutely no reason, Michigan legislators are seeking to limit how this law works. For families with young children and marriages without children, and in which one party wishes to remain married, it may be harder to obtain a no-fault divorce. This law can open up an entirely new can of worms in which those who wish to exit their marriages may not be able to do so.