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Appeals court says commitment ceremony is not a marriage

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A woman and her new partner held a commitment ceremony. Her ex-husband argues that's a marriage, and should relieve him of spousal support.

The state Court of Appeals says a commitment ceremony does not equal a marriage in Michigan.

An ex-husband is challenging a lower court ruling. He says his former wife’s commitment ceremony with her partner relieves him of an expensive spousal support obligation.

The ex-wife says he still owes the money. The appeals court agrees, ruling he has to continue paying the agreed-upon spousal support arrangement.

Family law attorney Robert Cassar says the decision sets a clear standard on who is entitled to marriage rights in Michigan.

“You have to get a license from the state of Michigan to get married. If you don’t do those things, you’re not married.”

The appeals court decision reverses a lower court’s decision.

Kevin Gentry is the ex-wife’s attorney. Gentry says the terms of the divorce were carefully negotiated. He says the opinion means the law is clear: “To get married in Michigan, you’ve got to get a license, you’ve got to have witnesses. It’s a legal status, and my client didn’t have that legal status.”

Michigan law does not recognize common law marriages. The ex-husband could appeal the case to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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