How property is divided in a Michigan divorce can be complicated and technically complex yet at the same time relatively simple in many ways. Simply put, marital property is divided fairly in light of all of the circumstances. The seminal case on point is Byington v. Byington, 224 Mich App. 103 (1997).
“To reach an equitable division of marital property, a trial court should consider the duration of the marriage, the contribution of each party to the marital estate, each party’s station in life, each party’s earning ability, each party’s age, health and needs, fault or past misconduct, and any other equitable circumstance. The determination of relevant factors will vary with the circumstances of each case, and no one factor should be given undue weight. The trial court must make specific findings regarding the factors it determines to be relevant.”
As a general rule marital property consists of assets earned by a spouse during the marriage, whether they are received during the existence of the marriage or after the judgment of divorce, are properly considered part of the marital estate.
Typically, separate property is identified as:
“[p]roperty that a spouse owned before marriage or acquired during marriage by inheritance or by gift from a third party, and in some states property acquired during marriage but after the spouses have entered into a separation agreement and have begun living apart or after one spouse has commenced a divorce action.”
Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed).
With few exceptions, a court will only divide marital property and will not divide the separate property of a party.
How to divide property in a Michigan divorce – the factors:
In determining how property is divided in a Michigan divorce, the Michigan Supreme Court provided factors to be considered in the case of McDougal v. McDougal, 451 Mich. 80 (1996). The factors considered are the:
(1) duration of the marriage, (2) contributions of the parties to the marital estate, (3) age of the parties, (4) health of the parties, (5) life status of the parties, (6) necessities and circumstances of the parties, (7) earning abilities of the parties, (8) past relations and conduct of the parties, and (9) general principles of equity.
After listing the specific factors, the McDougal court provided additional discretion by the trial court to determine how property is divided in a Michigan divorce in providing that:
“[t]here may even be additional factors that are relevant to a particular case. For example, the court may choose to consider the interruption of the personal career or education of either party. The determination of relevant factors will vary depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.”
In sum, determining how property is divided in a Michigan divorce involves a two-step process. First, determining what property is marital vs. separate. Second, applying the nine McDougal factors set forth above and other relevant factors in dividing marital property fairly as separate property is rarely divided.
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By: Daniel Findling