Michigan Separation Agreement Law


Divorce – Separation Agreements – Michigan

Note:  This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law of separation agreements in Michigan, but does include basic and other provisions.

General Summary: Separation and Property Agreements may be entered into before a divorce is filed to be effective immediately.  In Michigan, a divorce case is equitable in nature, and the court, acting as a court of equity, molds its relief according to the character of the case.  Once a court of equity acquires jurisdiction, it has the statutory authority and will do what is necessary to accord complete equity and to conclude the controversy.  The parties’ settlement of a pending controversy is favored by the courts and such a settlement should only be voided on satisfactory evidence of mistake, fraud, or unconscionable advantage.  Thus, the equities of a “property settlement agreement reached by the parties to a divorce action may be considered where the record indicates that the settlement may be unconscionable.

Michigan courts are bound by property settlements reached through negotiations and agreement by parties to a divorce action, in the absence of fraud, duress, mutual mistake, or severe stress which prevented a party from understanding in a reasonable manner the nature and effect of the act in which she was engaged.  For this rule to apply, the settlement must be in writing and signed by the parties or their representatives or the settlement must be orally placed on the record and consented to by the parties.  It is then effective and binding on the parties and the court, even though not yet formally entered as part of the divorce judgment by the lower court.

Statutes:

Michigan Compiled Laws
CHAPTER 552 DIVORCE

Jurisdiction of court; application for modification of judgment or order; waiver of contempt:

(1) The court shall have jurisdiction in making such order or judgment relative to the minor children of such parties as authorized in this chapter to award custody of each child to 1 of the parties or a third person until each child has attained the age of 18 years and may require either parent to pay for the support of each child until each child shall have attained that age. Subject to section 16a, the court may also order support as authorized in this chapter for a child of the parties to provide support for the child after the child reaches 18 years of age.

(2) Upon an application for modification of a judgment or order when applicant is in contempt, for cause shown, the court may waive the contempt and proceed to a hearing without prejudice to applicant’s rights and render a determination on the merits.  Sec. 552.17a.

Restoration of real and personal estate to parties:

Upon the annulment of a marriage, a divorce from the bonds of matrimony or a judgment of separate maintenance, the court may make a further judgment for restoring to either party the whole, or such parts as it shall deem just and reasonable, of the real and personal estate that shall have come to either party by reason of the marriage, or for awarding to either party the value thereof, to be paid by either party in money.  Sec. 552.19.

Judgment of divorce or separate maintenance; provision in lieu of dower; determining rights of wife or husband in and to policy of life insurance, endowment, or annuity; discharge of liability on policy; determining rights as to pension, annuity, or retirement benefits or systems:

(1) When any judgment of divorce or judgment of separate maintenance is granted in any of the courts of this state, it shall be the duty of the court granting the judgment to include in it a provision in lieu of the dower of the wife in the property of the husband, which provision shall be in full satisfaction of all claims that the wife may have in any property which the husband owns or may own in the future, or in which he may have any interest.

(2) Each judgment of divorce or judgment of separate maintenance shall determine all rights of the wife in and to the proceeds of any policy or contract of life insurance, endowment, or annuity upon the life of the husband in which the wife was named or designated as beneficiary, or to which the wife became entitled by assignment or change of beneficiary during the marriage or in anticipation of marriage. If the judgment of divorce or judgment of separate maintenance does not determine the rights of the wife in and to a policy of life insurance, endowment, or annuity, the policy shall be payable to the estate of the husband or to the named beneficiary if the husband so designates. However, the company issuing the policy shall be discharged of all liability on the policy by payment of its proceeds in accordance with the terms of the policy, unless before the payment the company receives written notice, by or on behalf of the insured or the estate of the insured or 1 of the heirs of the insured, or any other person having an interest in the policy, of a claim under the policy and the divorce.

(3) Each judgment of divorce or judgment of separate maintenance shall determine all rights of the husband in and to the proceeds of any policy or contract of life insurance, endowment, or annuity upon the life of the wife in which the husband was named or designated as beneficiary, or to which he became entitled by assignment or change of beneficiary during the marriage or in anticipation of marriage. If the judgment of divorce or judgment of separate maintenance does not determine the rights of the husband in and to the policy of life insurance, endowment, or annuity, the policy shall be payable to the estate of the wife, or to the named beneficiary if the wife so designates. However, the company issuing the policy shall be discharged of all liability on the policy by payment of the proceeds in accordance with the terms of the policy, unless before the payment the company receives written notice, by or on behalf of the insured or the estate of the insured or 1 of the heirs of the insured, or any other person having an interest in the policy, of a claim under the policy and the divorce.

(4) Each judgment of divorce or judgment of separate maintenance shall determine all rights of the husband and wife in and to all of the following:

(a) Any pension, annuity, or retirement benefits.
(b) Any accumulated contributions in any pension, annuity, or retirement system.
(c) Any right or contingent right in and to unvested pension, annuity, or retirement benefits.  Sec. 552.101

Alimony or support and maintenance order in suit for divorce or separate maintenance; petition; punishment for neglect or violation:

In a suit for divorce or separate maintenance, if an order or decree for payment of temporary or permanent alimony, or of support and maintenance for minor children or for children who are 18 years of age or older, has been made, and if the party, plaintiff, or defendant, has appeared in person or by attorney or has been personally served with process within the jurisdiction of the court making the order or decree, then the court may punish by fine or imprisonment, or both, any neglect or violation of the order upon petition of the party whose rights may have been impaired, impeded, or prejudiced by neglect or violation.  Sec. 552.151

Property owned by spouse; award to party contributing to acquisition, improvement, or accumulation thereof; effect of decree:

The circuit court of this state may include in any decree of divorce or of separate maintenance entered in the circuit court appropriate provisions awarding to a party all or a portion of the property, either real or personal, owned by his or her spouse, as appears to the court to be equitable under all the circumstances of the case, if it appears from the evidence in the case that the party contributed to the acquisition, improvement, or accumulation of the property. The decree, upon becoming final, shall have the same force and effect as a quitclaim deed of the real estate, if any, or a bill of sale of the personal property, if any, given by the party’s spouse to the party.  Sec. 552.401.

Case Law:

The parties’ settlement of a pending controversy is favored by the courts and such a settlement should only be voided on satisfactory evidence of mistake, fraud, or unconscionable advantage. Groulx v Carlson, 176 Mich. App. 484, 489; 440 N.W.2d 644 (1989). A divorce case is equitable in nature, and a court of equity molds its relief according to the character of the case; once a court of equity acquires jurisdiction, it will do what is necessary to accord complete equity and to conclude the controversy. Wiand v Wiand, 178 Mich. App. 137, 144; 443 N.W.2d 464 (1989). Thus, the equities of a “property settlement agreement reached by the parties to a divorce action may be considered where the record indicates that the settlement may be unconscionable. Howard v Howard, 134 Mich. App. 391, 400; 352 N.W.2d 280 (1984).

Howard v Howard, 134 Mich. App. 391, 352 N.W.2d 280 (1984). The finding of the trial court concerning the validity of the parties’ consent to a settlement agreement will not be overturned absent a finding of an abuse of discretion.  Howard v Howard, 134 Mich. App. 391; 352 N.W.2d 280 (1984).