Michigan Family Law Lawyer Elizabeth Sadowski
In Michigan, the distribution of
property in a divorce is controlled by statute. If a husband and wife cannot
agree upon a property distribution, they’re going to have to accept the trial
court's decisions. The first issue a trial court will address is a determination
of what property is marital property to be divided between the parities, and
what property is separate property that belongs to one of the spouses.
Generally speaking, the marital
estate is divided between the parties, and each party takes away from the
marriage that party's own separate estate with no invasion by the other party. No
matter how long the parties lived together prior to marriage, the trial court's
analysis must be limited only to the time the parties were married.
When a party has used separate
property and “commingled it” with marital property, then it will be considered
as marital property by the trial court. However, courts in Michigan may rule
that if one of the spouses owned a house prior to the marriage, that party will
keep the pre-marital equity that he or she owned, regardless of any later joint
ownership that may have arisen during a re-financing. It’s only where it is
clear that a spouse intended to give the premarital interest to the other party
that a court should hold that it has become joint property.
Nevertheless, Michigan law allows the trial court to
invade the separate assets of a party under two distinct exceptions: First, "if
the estate and effects awarded to either party are insufficient for the suitable
support and maintenance of either party" and second, "if it appears from the
evidence in the case that the party contributed to the acquisition, improvement,
or accumulation of the property." Even if separate property of one party is
awarded to the other spouse, the ultimate property division is to be fair and
equitable under all of the circumstances of the case.
If you owned substantial
property prior to your marriage, you should fully explore the extent to which
the facts will support its award to you. An analysis of the other party’s
arguments might suggest that you need to spend some time documenting transfers
between retirement accounts, etc. to see whether you can trace your assets. This
is a complex subject and should be fully addressed with your lawyer.
You may have additional questions concerning a
premarital or cohabitation agreement.