Property Division in Michigan Divorce cases
Even in the best case scenarios, divorce is painful, difficult and draining. Dividing marital assets and debts further complicates this process. Even for seasoned family law lawyers, it’s never easy. It is easy however, for couples to let things fall through the cracks and get caught up with the minutia. Many people don’t realize the importance and difficulty of marital property division and some confuse it with spousal support, even though the two are completely separate issues.
The Kronzek Firm family law attorneys understand not just the legal complexities of divorce, but also the turbulent emotions that usually happen during this trying time. With decades of experience practicing law in Michigan, and thousands of cases, our divorce attorneys have helped countless people make is successfully through divorce. We have helped our clients regain a sense of normalcy in their lives. To help you get a better sense of property separation and asset protection, we have created a brief overview of factors that Michigan Family Law courts typically take into consideration.
Here in the Great Lakes State, property means any asset or any liability. Basically, anything that is not a child or child related issue is called property. Michigan has two different ways to categorize property divided during a divorce case:
1) separate property and
2) marital property.
Separate property is the property that each spouse owned before the marriage and kept separate during the marriage. Marital property is the property that the couple acquired during marriage and the property that began as separate property but later got co-mingled into the marital property. At first it was difficult to distinguish between separate and marital property because many couples live together before officially getting married.
To simplify things, it has now been established that marital property is all property acquired once the marriage begins and until separation papers or a petition for divorce is filed. This allows for property acquired during cohabitation to be considered separate property. Living together without being married is called a meretricious relationship. Normally, one partner is not entitled to anything acquired by the other partner during a meretricious relationship. As with most things law related, there are some exceptions to that general rule.
Property considered separate property before marriage is likely to be classified as separate property after divorce as well. There are, however, three exceptions to this rule:
1) where the other spouse shows additional need or
2) where the other spouse significantly contributed to the acquisition or improvement of the separate property or
3) or co-mingling of that asset occurred during the marriage.
If any of these exceptions apply, the court may open the separate estate for redistribution. These exceptions mean that, just because a spouse owned the property before marriage does not mean that they will not have to share it after marriage if the other spouse has excessive needs or helped to increase the value of the property or asset. It is critical that you find a qualified family law attorney to counsel for you and advocate for you regarding asset protection and property division. As an aside, please consider meeting with an experienced divorce lawyer before the marriage to understand how to protect your premarital assets during your marriage.
Sometimes these exceptions apply in cases where it seems less obvious. In some households, couples divide duties so that one spouse does all the household work (cooking, cleaning, child rearing) while the other spouse works outside the home and concentrates on developing his or her career. In a case like that, if the stay-at-home spouse needs extra assistance after divorce, it is possible that the court decides to split the separate property in addition to the marital property, thereby enacting one of the exceptions to the general rule stated above.
There is also a category of property in between separate property and marital property: mixed property. This is when separate property is used or treated in a way that allows it to become marital property. Generally, there are two ways for this to happen:
1) the separate property is commingled with marital property to an extent that it can no longer or should no longer be traced and
2) the separate property is used in way that indicates an intention for it to be marital property.
Different types of marital property include real estate, collectibles, pensions, professional / graduate degrees acquired during the marriage, stock options and bonuses. Michigan courts operate on the basis of equitable distribution. In other words, the courts will work to find a fair outcome for each specific situation. Even though each case is different, there is a presumption that the court will divide marital property equally. If the court decides to divide marital property in a manner that is out of the norm, it must state on the record to state its reason for doing so.
To ensure that marital property is being split in a fair manner across the state, courts take the following into consideration:
- duration of the marriage
- contributions of the parties to the marital estate
- age of the parties
- health of the parties
- life status of the parties
- necessities and circumstances of the parties
- earning abilities of the parties
- past relations and conduct of the parties
- general principles of equity
These factors provide no exact formula for property distribution; sometimes certain factors are given more weight than others, or certain factors are completely irrelevant. However, what is always true is that no one factor will be given complete weight when determining property division.
For instance, the factor concerning past relations of the parties is essentially determining fault for the breakdown of the marriage. When considering this factor, the distribution of marital property should not be done in a way that punishes the person at fault. Frankly, very few courts these days pay much attention to the issue of fault. Even though your case is unique, this list of factors can give you an idea of the lens through which your case will be viewed.
Courts also have discretion in defining the marital estate’s value. The value can be based on the time of (1) separation, (2) filing, (3) trial, (4) judgment, or (5) any other date appropriate under the circumstances. Generally, this determination is made in a way that is conducive to the parties making honest disclosures and prudent economic decisions.
It is inherently important for couples considering divorce to know each other’s assets and liabilities. For your attorneys to help you gain a fair separation of property, they must know all the assets and properties that are at play. With this information, your divorce attorney may be able to predict what the other party will be negotiating for and what your request should be. You should also contemplate your own wants and expectations so that you and your attorney can devise a plan to achieve these expectations.
It is possible that your Michigan Family Court requests that you seek the assistance of a court-appointed arbitrator or a court-approved mediator. Because these people may be involved in your case, you should understand the role of arbitrators and mediators. Arbitrators and mediators are both neutral third parties. If an arbitrator is chosen, he or she will listen to both sides and create a binding decision on how to split the property. If a mediator is appointed or chosen, he or she will help the couple come to their own decision. In sum, arbitrators will make the decision while mediators help you to make the decision.
We Can Help You with Your Property Division
We know and understand you are going through a difficult time because of your divorce. Our Oakland County Family Law attorneys have decades of experience and are ready to help you successfully make it through this divorce process. We understand the complexities of family law and property division and we have the specialized knowledge it will take to help you. We’ve already done this thousands of times.
We are passionate about protecting you. Contact us online or call during business hours to set up an initial consultation. For emergencies, call us 24/7 at our number listed below. Our office is conveniently located at 30300 Northwestern Highway. That’s located in the Gem Building near 13 Mile and Northwestern. Office hours are by appointment.
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