Michigan is a no fault divorce state. But, fault may be a factor that the Court can consider when dividing assets or when evaluating the award of spousal support.
Fault need not be raised to obtain a divorce. A party filing for divorce in Michigan need only allege “that there has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.” In other words, one does not have to prove fault to obtain a divorce; the other party need not be an alcoholic, thieving, embezzling and abusive creep. The only proof required in terms of meeting the grounds for divorce is that one of the parties believes that the marriage has broken down and neither of the parties need to be proven a “bad” person.
Fault may be a factor when dividing property. A Court in Michigan may consider various factors, including fault. Those factors include: (1) the length of the marriage, (2) the needs of the parties, (3) the needs of the children, (4) the earning power of the parties, (5) the source of the property, (6) where the contributions toward property acquisitions came from, and (7) the cause of the divorce, including fault in the breakdown of the marriage (although fault is a factor, it must not be used punitively). The Court may also consider any other factor deemed relevant, although it is error to consider only one factor when allocating property in a divorce.
Fault may also be as issue when granting spousal support. Michigan Courts use the following factors when deciding the amount or length of spousal support: (1) the past relations and conduct of the parties, (2) the length of the marriage, (3) the abilities of the parties to work, (4) the source and amount of property awarded to the parties, (5) the parties’ ages, (6) the abilities of the parties to pay alimony; this can mean not only actual earnings, but the ability to earn income, (7) the present situation of the parties, (8) the needs of the parties, (9) the parties’ health, (10) the prior standard of living of the parties and whether either is responsible for the support of others, (11) contributions of the parties to the joint estate, (12) a party’s fault in causing the divorce, and as to fault, the relative value to be given fault and the extent to which particular actions are regarded as fault contributing to the breakdown of a marriage are issues calling for a subjective response left to the trial court’s discretion subject to the requirement that the distribution not be inequitable. (13) the effect of cohabitation on a party’s financial status, and (14) general principles of equity.
Sometimes the analysis is not extremely difficult. If one spouse raised the children and the other increased his or her earning potential through education or experience, then a Court will consider that the main purpose of awarding spousal support is to balance the incomes and needs of the parties without impoverishing either party. But, even then the Court must consider all the factors, and not just need.
Because of the many factors that have to be evaluated in dividing property or evaluating a spousal support claim, don’t trust your divorce to an attorney who handles divorce as a sideline. Retain an attorney who spends a considerable part of his or her practice dealing with divorce. Experience matters.