You may have heard that Michigan has “no-fault divorce” laws. But does that mean that what he (or she) did to break up the marriage doesn’t matter? Shouldn’t your good efforts count for something?
In 1973, Michigan authorized “no-fault divorce.” What that means is that if one spouse wants a divorce, he or she no longer needs to claim that the couple’s circumstances fit into the categories the law used to require, like infidelity, infertility, or alcoholism. Instead, all that is required is that there be “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.”
But just because there does not have to be fault to file a divorce does not mean the issue is irrelevant. Judges are allowed to consider fault when deciding the distribution of marital property, and whether spousal support (formerly alimony) or attorney fees are appropriate. Where one spouse is clearly at fault a judge may go so far as to increase the other spouse’s share by 10% or require that spouse pay for all the fees and costs of the other spouse’s attorney.
Sometimes the issues are clear-cut, particularly in cases of domestic violence. But more often when a husband or wife opens the door to issues of fault, the other spouse has concerns as well. The breakdown of a marriage takes time, and often both sides will do things that raise red flags. The judge will weigh both parties’ responsibility and distribute the estate based on equity.
Not all fault is created equal, either. Because fault is now considered mostly in terms of money, whether in bank accounts, support, or attorney fees, judges often are much more concerned with a wife who is a compulsive spender or a husband who hides income that they are by who cheated on whom first (although this may be very relevant in child custody disputes). Some judges even see affairs as an expected consequence of the breakdown of the marital relationship!
Affairs and emotional abuse can play havoc on a person’s emotions and can make them feel, justifiably, that the divorce is all their spouse’s fault. But when it comes to dividing a marital estate, those hurt feelings are simply not as important to the court. When you are talking to your attorney about fault, remember that courts are looking at the money, even if you feel it’s all about morality. If you are facing a divorce, contact family attorney Lisa Schmidt for a free consultation.