The Ins and Outs of Michigan Divorce Laws

Divorce can be a challenging and emotional experience, but understanding the intricacies of Michigan divorce laws can help alleviate some of the stress. This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the ins and outs of divorce in Michigan, from the no-fault system to unique situations such as military divorce and domestic violence. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of the process and be better equipped to navigate this life-changing event.

Key Takeaways

  • Michigan divorce laws provide for a no-fault system to obtain a divorce.
  • The process of filing and navigating the divorce involves multiple steps, including temporary orders, discovery, negotiations and potentially a trial to resolve issues such as property division, spousal support and child custody.
  • Unique situations such as military divorces or domestic violence may affect the proceedings in Michigan.

Understanding Michigan’s No-Fault Divorce System

Michigan is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that a spouse does not need to prove wrongdoing or fault to dissolve the marriage relationship. Instead, the court only requires proof of a breakdown of the marriage with no reasonable likelihood of preservation. However, it is important to note that while Michigan is a no-fault divorce state, a spouse’s behavior may still impact asset division and spousal support settlements.

In order to obtain a divorce in Michigan, a spouse must file a complaint with the appropriate court, and there is a mandatory waiting period before the divorce can be finalized. If the couple has minor children, the waiting period is six months, but if there are no minor children, the waiting period is reduced to 60 days. In some cases, a judge may shorten the waiting period if one spouse can provide compelling reasons for doing so.

Although Michigan is a no-fault divorce state, couples can still opt for legal separation, known as separate maintenance, instead of a divorce. Separate maintenance allows the couple to:

  • Resolve issues such as property division, child custody, and spousal support without officially ending the marriage
  • Maintain certain legal benefits of marriage, such as health insurance coverage
  • Have time and space to work on their relationship without the finality of a divorce

This option may be preferable for couples who have religious or personal reasons for not wanting a divorce. However, at the end of the process, the couple will go through all of the steps of the divorce, just not be divorced, which is often not ideal. A new filing would be required to actually divorce.

Key Terms and Definitions in Michigan Divorce Laws

To better understand the divorce process in Michigan, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with some key terms and definitions. The grounds for divorce in Michigan involve the breakdown of the marriage with no reasonable likelihood of preservation. This means that the marriage is beyond repair and cannot be saved.

A contested divorce occurs when one party refuses to cooperate with the divorce process or objects to specific aspects of the proceedings. In these cases, if there is truly no resolution, a trial may be necessary. However, there are intermediate steps, namely mediation and negotiations aimed to avoid a trial.

However sometimes a trial cannot be avoided, and a high conflict divorce relates to more intense situations. These can include abusive spouses, narcissistic personalities or even criminal behavior. These situations require more than just a typical disagreement over assets or custody and may necessitate a court hearing to resolve the issues.

In the context of Michigan divorce laws, ‘assets’ refer to any property or possessions owned by either spouse, including:

  • Real estate
  • Investments
  • Bank accounts
  • Vehicles
  • Other valuable items

Assets are generally divided between the spouses during the divorce process, and the court strives to divide them equitably, considering factors such as marital debt, responsibility for the divorce, and each spouse’s contributions.

Meeting the Requirements: How to File for Divorce in Michigan

To file for divorce in Michigan, you must meet three legal requirements:

  1. Residency requirements: You or your spouse must have resided in Michigan for at least 180 days and in the county where you intend to file for at least ten days prior to filing.
  2. Filing a complaint: You need to file a complaint with the court stating the grounds for divorce. This document initiates the divorce process.
  3. Serving your spouse with the Summons and Complaint: After filing the complaint, you must serve your spouse with the Summons and Complaint. This notifies them of the divorce proceedings and gives them an opportunity to respond.

It is important to note that filing for divorce does not require spouses to be physically separated or living apart. It is possible to pursue a divorce even when couples are still sharing the same living space.

After meeting the residency requirements, the next step is to file a complaint with the circuit court in the appropriate county. Once the complaint has been filed, your spouse is required to receive the Summons and Complaint. Additionally, all other documents that were provided to the court in the initial filing must be received as well. This can be done by delivering the documents to your spouse in person or sending them via registered or certified mail.

Your spouse has 21 days after being served with the Summons and Complaint for Divorce in person, or 28 days if served by mail or outside of Michigan, to file an Answer. If your spouse does not respond within the designated time frame, the court may discontinue the divorce proceedings or enter a judgment of divorce with the terms proposed by the filing spouse.

Navigating the Divorce Process in Michigan

Navigating the divorce process in Michigan involves several stages, including answering the complaint, temporary orders, the discovery phase, negotiations, mediation, and potentially a trial. During the discovery phase, attorneys obtain pertinent facts through inquiry and discovery, such as information related to spousal support, incomes, work history, child custody, and parenting time. The types of discovery available during this process include interrogatories, requests to produce documents, third-party subpoenas, depositions, and requests to admit. Attorneys may also consult experts, such as appraisers, accountants, and psychological professionals, to help evaluate the case.

Temporary Orders may be issued during the divorce process to address matters related to children and finances while the case is pending. These orders typically dictate:

  • Custody
  • Debt responsibility
  • Parenting time
  • Child support
  • Spousal support (if applicable)
  • Possession of the marital home

Temporary Orders also generally prohibit the parties from concealing or selling assets during the divorce process.

If the spouses cannot reach an agreement on all issues, mediation may be utilized to help them reach a consensus. Mediation involves a neutral third party, usually someone with extensive experience in the county the divorce is taking place in, who assists the spouses in resolving their disputes. If mediation is unsuccessful, the case may proceed to trial, where a judge will make the final determination on any contested issues.

Contested vs. Uncontested Divorce: What’s the Difference?

The primary distinction between contested and uncontested divorce in Michigan lies in the level of agreement between the spouses regarding the particulars of the divorce. In an uncontested divorce, the spouses agree on matters such as division of assets, child custody, and alimony, making the process faster and less expensive. On the other hand, a contested divorce involves disputes that may necessitate further steps, prolong the duration of proceedings, and increase the associated costs.

Engaging an experienced divorce litigation attorney in a contested divorce in Michigan is essential to ensure your assets, livelihood, and quality of life are safeguarded. Contested divorces typically take longer to finalize, ranging from six to twelve months, while uncontested divorces usually take three to six months. The expenses associated with a contested divorce can also be significantly higher due to factors such as lawyer fees, court filing fees, and other legal costs.

Property Division in Michigan Divorces

In Michigan divorces, property division is determined by the court, which strives to divide marital property equitably. Marital property includes:

  • Real estate
  • Pensions
  • Insurance
  • Retirement accounts
  • Investment accounts

The court will consider factors such as marital debt, responsibility for the divorce, and each spouse’s contributions when dividing property.

Separate property, on the other hand, is property owned by one spouse prior to the marriage or inherited by one spouse during the marriage and kept separate from the couple’s other assets. The owner of separate property typically retains it after the divorce. It is crucial for both spouses to be transparent and honest about their assets and liabilities during the property division process to ensure a fair outcome.

Marital debt, like marital property, is typically divided equally between the spouses unless the judge determines that an unequal division would be equitable. Personal debt of each spouse is not considered when dividing marital debt. In some cases, the court may award one spouse a larger share of marital property to compensate for an unequal division of marital debt.

Child Custody and Parenting Time in Michigan

Child custody in Michigan is overseen by the court. The decision made will be based on the “best interest of the child” standard. Judges are required to consider 12 best interests factors when making a decision regarding custody. Joint custody is an option in Michigan, but there is no presumption towards it. Parents may share physical and/or legal custody when it comes to joint custody. This means that both parents can make decisions regarding childcare and bring up their child jointly.

Sole custody is when one parent is granted the primary rights in physical or legal custody of a child. On the other hand, both parents may share the physical and legal custody but one may have more time with the child than the other. When one parent is granted exclusive physical custody, the usual parenting time arrangement involves the other parent having less time with the child. Parenting time is the term used in Michigan for the specific shared living arrangement between parents and their children.

In Michigan, child support payments are determined using the Michigan Child Support Formula Guidelines. This model includes several factors, including:

  • The number of children
  • The incomes of both parents
  • The parenting time with the children for each parent

Modifications and departures from the Michigan Child Support Formula are possible, but they generally require the agreement of both parties.

Spousal Support (Alimony) in Michigan Divorce Cases

Spousal support, also known as alimony, is a form of financial assistance paid by one spouse to the other following a divorce. In Michigan, spousal support may be available in the form of:

  • Temporary payments
  • Periodic payments
  • Permanent payments
  • Lump-sum payments

Michigan courts evaluate factors such as the spouses’ conduct and earning capacity when determining spousal support.

In some cases, couples may choose to pursue a legal separation, known as separate maintenance, instead of a divorce. This arrangement enables a financial separation while the couple remains legally married, allowing them to resolve issues such as property division, child custody, and spousal support without officially ending the marriage. This option may be preferable for couples who have religious or personal reasons for not wanting a divorce.

Unique Situations: Military Divorce, Common Law Marriage, and Domestic Violence

Special circumstances, such as military divorce, can impact the divorce process and outcomes in Michigan. When a spouse is on active military duty, complications may arise due to difficulty in finding and serving papers on a service member stationed overseas, as well as state and federal laws that provide extra protections in civil cases for those on active duty.

Common law marriage, an arrangement between a man and woman to cohabit as husband and wife without undergoing a formal marriage ceremony, is not recognized in Michigan. According to Michigan law, the state has not permitted common law marriage since 1957, so any couples who believe they have a common law marriage in Michigan should consult with an attorney to discuss their options.

Domestic violence can have a significant impact on various aspects of a divorce, including custody, parenting time, and property division. Domestic violence is a serious issue that can take many forms. These forms include:

  • Physical assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Emotional abuse
  • Isolation
  • Control of money
  • Threats
  • Stalking
  • Intimidation

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, it is crucial to seek help and support from local resources and professionals.

Summary

In conclusion, understanding the ins and outs of Michigan divorce laws can be essential in navigating the complexities of the divorce process. From the no-fault system to unique situations such as military divorce and domestic violence, being informed about the various stages and requirements can help alleviate some of the stress associated with this life-changing event. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to protect your interests and make informed decisions throughout the divorce process.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a spouse entitled to in a divorce in Michigan?

In Michigan, divorcing spouses are entitled to a fair and equitable division of all marital property and debt. This includes any real property acquired during the marriage.

Is Michigan a 50 50 state when it comes to divorce?

Michigan is not a 50/50 state for divorce, but it does attempt to divide property as close to a 50-50 split as possible based on “equitable distribution”. Therefore, it is not uncommon for the assets of a divorce to be divided equally.

How long do you have to be married to get half of everything in Michigan?

Under Michigan law, anyone who is married is entitled to an equitable share of the marital assets regardless of how soon after marriage they divorce.

What does it mean that Michigan is a no-fault divorce state?

In Michigan, couples don’t have to provide fault as grounds for divorce. The state allows divorces to proceed without assigning blame, based solely on evidence that the marriage has reached an irretrievable breakdown with no reasonable possibility of reconciliation.

Each situation is different and there is no one sized fits all approach. Call our office today to schedule a consultation.