Is Michigan a Community Property State?
No. Michigan is an “equitable distribution” state, which means that divorce courts in Michigan may distribute the marital assets of spouses in a way they believe is fair. Equitable (fair) distribution is not necessarily an “equal” distribution.
What's the Difference Between Community Property and Equitable Distribution?
Community property states divide marital property equally between the spouses in order to reach as close to a 50/50 split as possible. However, the equitable distribution standard results in a property division that’s fair and equitable considering all of the circumstances of the case.
What is Marital Property?
Before you can begin dividing property, you first have to identify what property will be divided. Property can include tangible assets, such as homes, cars, jewelry, furniture and furnishings, electronics, cash and savings accounts, and intangible assets such as future retirement benefits, business interests and investments, goodwill, and stock options.
Courts in Michigan can divide “marital” property between spouses in a divorce, but generally, courts don’t have the authority to divide the “separate” property of either spouse.
Marital property includes any property or asset that's acquired or earned by either spouse during the marriage, even if the asset isn't received until after the divorce. For example, if one spouse earned a large work bonus during the marriage, it’s considered marital property even if it’s not paid out until after the divorce.
“Separate” property includes any property or asset acquired by either spouse before the marriage, or received by inheritance or gift at any time. If one spouse proves that property is separate, it will not be part of the equitable division and will be confirmed to the spouse that obtained or acquired it.
What do Judges Consider when Dividing Marital Property?
Courts may consider a variety of factors when ordering a fair division of property, including:
- the length of the marriage
- the spouses’ contributions to the marital estate
- the spouses’ ages and health
- each spouse’s ability to work and earn income (based on education, job skills, work history and employment opportunities)
- the spouses’ financial needs and circumstances
- the spouses’ past relations and conduct, and
- general principles of equity (fairness).
For more information on this topic, see Division of Marital Property in Michigan, by Lina Guillen.
Will I Receive One-Half of all the Assets?
Not necessarily. First, you will not typically receive any portion of your spouse's separate property - spouses are only entitled to share in a portion of the marital estate. Second, because Michigan is not a community property state, you may get more (or less) than fifty percent of the marital assets, depending on what the court decides is fair and equitable.
Do I get to Keep my Inheritance?
Generally, your inheritance is not a marital asset and not subject to division, unless you did something to "transmute" or change its character from separate to marital. For example, if you placed your inheritance in your spouse's name or your spouse contributed to its acquisition, improvement or accumulation during the marriage, your spouse may be entitlted to a portion of it.
If you’re wondering whether property is marital or separate or have questions about the division of property in general, you should contact a local family law attorney for help.