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What "No Fault" Really Means

Posted by attorney Laurel Stuart-Fink

I am often contacted by potential clients who tell me they want to file a "no fault" divorce, as opposed to one where someone is to "blame" for the breakdown in the marriage. It has become clear to me that many people do not understand what "no fault" divorce actually means.

In Michigan, "no fault" simply means that you are not required to prove your spouse did something wrong to you in order to obtain a divorce. The only thing you must do is assert that there has been a breakdown in the marriage relationship and that nothing can be done to repair it.

Although it is unnecessary to prove your spouse is at fault to obtain a divorce, sometimes fault has an influence on how a case is resolved. What do I mean by that? Well, as a general rule, the parties to a divorce case can expect that each will leave with an equitable share of the marital assets. While equitable does not mean equal, in most cases each spouse will take about 50%. However, if one party has acted in a very bad manner and that behavior has contributed to the breakdown of the marriage, the wronged spouse may be awarded a greater amount of the marital assets, maybe as much as 60%.

The type of fault I am referring to might include domestic violence, criminal behavior of another sort, chronic gambling that has dissipated marital assets, etc. Many people are shocked to learn than extra-marital affairs are rarely treated as "fault" by the courts. The general approach is that an extra-marital affair is a symptom of a broken marriage and not the cause. In almost 28 years of practice, I have had only one client whose spouse's affair was deemed fault, resulting in an award of a substantially greater share of the marital assets to my client. In that case the spouse who had the affair was a church deacon and the fall-out to the family in their small community was devastating. The court took it very seriously.

I hope this small guide provides you with a better understanding of what "no fault" divorce means in Michigan, as well as how and when fault might matter.

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