How to Divorce in Michigan

Getting divorced is one of the most difficult events in any person’s life; it is a process that will change a person forever, and its impact may be felt by not only the parties themselves, but family, friends and co-workers. It is difficult for anyone to truly prepare you for what you may experience throughout this process as every divorce is different—different people, different needs, different property, etc. If you think that a divorce may be in your future, you are probably wondering how to get divorced in Michigan and what the process entails.

Michigan is a No-Fault Divorce State

Michigan is a no-fault divorce state. What does that mean? It simply means that either party can file for divorce regardless of where fault may lie, and despite the fact that the other party may oppose such an action. The only requirements to get a divorce in Michigan are that there is a legal marriage recognized by the state of Michigan, the court filed in has jurisdiction, and that the statutory requirements for obtaining a divorce exist. In Michigan, a court has jurisdiction if a party has been living in Michigan for at least 180 days and a resident of the county filed in for at least 10 days prior to filing for divorce. The grounds for divorce are as follows: “There has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.” There is a six-month period in between the time a complaint for divorce is filed and the time when a judgment of divorce may be entered when the parties have minor children. Only in limited circumstances may the six month wait period be waived; where “unusual hardship or compelling necessity” exist, a court may shorten the period to as little as sixty days.

What Can I Expect During the Divorce Process?

Divorce proceedings commence once a party files a complaint in court. This complaint, along with a verified statement, must be served upon the other side. Once filed and served, the other party must answer the complaint. Sometimes the other party will default (refrain from answering the complaint) when an agreement between the parties exists which will settle the case. Most divorce cases do settle. Very few end in trial. Throughout this process, one may expect that his/her privacy will go flying out the window—especially if there is a dispute as to a child’s custody. A court will want to consider everything when it is attempting to determine how best to split marital assets and debts, and to whom physical custody of the children will be awarded. Of course, not all divorces end with the parties airing their dirty laundry in public. For this reason, many parties choose to cooperate with one another and enter into a binding settlement agreement. Settlement agreements keep the parties’ assets private. Although agreements as to child custody, support and parenting time are not enforceable even if addressed in a settlement agreement, a court gives great weight to joint decisions on these issues and rarely rules against them. Once the time comes to enter a consent or default judgment, proofs must be placed on the record to establish jurisdictional requirements and the statutory basis for divorce. These proceedings are typically very short. In the event that no agreement has been made, a trial is conducted. These trials operate just like any other trial. Witnesses are examined, documentary evidence is presented, closing arguments are made, and a judge makes his ruling.

How to Deal with Divorce in Michigan

  • Michigan law provides what is known as a ‘no-fault’ divorce system. This lets citizens get a divorce without needing to show that the other party did anything wrong. This means that ‘the marriage is no longer working’ is a sufficient justification for divorce. Fault may still play a role into division of the marital estate or child custody. While this system has arguably made divorces easier to come by, the additional regulation has also sometimes made the process more complex. It is important to keep the following in mind when getting a divorce in Michigan:
  • Parties seeking divorce in Michigan must have been a resident of the state for at least 180 days, and have lived in the county where the divorce complaint is filed for at least ten days before filing it.
  • Michigan courts generally impose a sixty-day waiting period. This is designed to allow parties to think through their decision before being forced to move forward. It also keeps the divorce process manageable.
  • Fault can play a role in dividing assets or assessing support. Fault will not usually change the division of assets. Fault can include adultery, abuse, or anything else that the court thinks indicates that one party is more responsible for the divorce than the other.
  • The court will consider a number of different factors when dividing the marital estate: past relations and conduct, length of marriage, age of parties, health and life status of parties, and origin of the marital estate.
  • In addition, divorces are subject to the unwritten  ‘rules’ of the courtroom. This means that parties are not as familiar with the law and its application as lawyers, and necessitates retaining a Michigan divorce lawyer if possible.