Sheehan & Associates, P.L.C.

Judge rules that commitment ceremony and marriage aren't the same

What's the difference between a valid marriage and a purely religious prayer ceremony that sanctifies a couple's relationship before God?

For one Michigan woman, it's $10,000 a month in alimony for several more years. The woman and her husband divorced after 29 years of marriage. Her spouse, who had significant income, was ordered to pay $10,000 a month in spousal support for the next 10 years unless his ex-wife remarried.

When she fell for a new man, the woman asked for a prayer ceremony at her church so that she didn't have to "live in sin" and could be "right with God." Her church obliged.

Her ex-spouse considered that prayer ceremony "close enough" to a marriage to challenge the support order and a lower court agreed with him -- but the Michigan Court of Appeals felt otherwise. It reversed the lower court's decision.

According to the Court of Appeals, it takes a marriage license to make a marriage and there's no room for ambiguity in Michigan law about what does and does not equal a valid marriage. (Michigan does not recognize "common law" marriages.) Thus, the ex-wife is still unmarried and entitled to alimony for another five years (unless she actually does get married).

Cases like this make it very clear how important it is to negotiate the terms of your divorce carefully, especially when there are significant dollar amounts at stake. If the divorce agreement had been worded differently, it might have saved the ex-husband in this case more than half a million dollars in spousal support payments.

If you're going through a divorce, talk to your attorney about your concerns for the future today -- and have clear goals in mind about what you want to see in your final agreement.

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Sheehan & Associates, P.L.C.
1460 Walton Blvd , Suite 102
Rochester Hills, MI 48309

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