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Divorce and Family Law

Commitment ceremonies and alimony in Michigan

Once upon a time, the only sanctified union a couple could have required a marriage license. Times have changed, however, and many couples are choosing to avoid formal marital ties, while still seeking the blessings and support of their communities or choosing to affirm their relationship with some kind of commitment ceremony and a party.

However, according to the Michigan courts, all of the ceremonies in the world — no matter where they are performed or what they look like — have no impact on alimony entitlements when there’s no legal union. That’s essentially the decision by an appeals court in the state after it reviewed a lower court’s decision to cut off the alimony payments to a woman who “married” her partner in a religious ceremony but made no formal or legal commitment.

The woman in the case was initially divorced in 2014, and her husband was ordered to pay alimony to her for a full 10 years — unless she remarried. Well, she fell in love and chose to walk down the aisle at a church with a new man in 2017 — but they never got a marriage license. The wedding was, in that sense, a purely religious convention without any legal bearing on the couple’s status.

The woman’s ex-husband naturally objected. A lower court called the wedding ceremony everything but an outright scam and ended her alimony — but the appeals court reversed the decision. Without a marriage license, the nature of the commitment ceremony they held was irrelevant.

Alimony can be one of the most complicated (and contentious) aspects of a divorce. Don’t make any hard-and-fast decisions about your future until you better understand your rights.