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Michigan Divorce Rules and Timelines

9 min read
Rachael Goldstein, Attorney

by Rachael Goldstein, Attorney

Divorces in Michigan are governed by laws that dictate everything from how a case is initiated and handled, to timelines for the completion of the process. These statutes provide clear guidelines on residency requirements, grounds for divorce, property division principles, and child custody considerations. Michigan’s procedures for divorce are similar to those of most other states.

How Long Do Divorces in Michigan Take?

Michigan has mandatory waiting periods that set minimum timeframes to finalize a divorce. The state imposes a 60-day waiting period from the time the divorce complaint is filed – meaning no divorce can be finalized before this period has passed. If minor children are involved in the proceedings, however, this is extended to a six-month wait.

Beyond these mandatory periods, how quickly you move to a final judgment of divorce depends on several factors, including the complexity of the case and whether issues like asset division or child custody require extended negotiation or court intervention.

Navigating a divorce in Michigan can be an intricate process that takes anywhere from several months to even years depending on your unique circumstances, so the length of the process varies greatly. However, due to the waiting period, no divorce can occur sooner than 60 days from the filing of the complaint.

Divorce Process in Michigan

Navigating a divorce in Michigan involves several legal steps. Here’s an overview of what the process entails:

Step 1: File a Complaint

The divorce process in Michigan is initiated by filing a legal document known as the complaint – this sets the divorce proceeding into motion. The individual who files for divorce is designated as the “Plaintiff,” while their spouse becomes known as the “Defendant.”

Step 2: Defendant Files an Answer

Once a divorce complaint and summons have been served on the defendant, the defendant has to formally file their answer with the court. This involves responding to each aspect of the complaint and either admitting or denying the statements it contains.

An answer must be filed in 21 days, or 28 days if the defendant was served by mail or is located out-of-state. Failure to file within this window can lead to a default order against the defendant, allowing the divorce terms outlined by the plaintiff to become final without input from their spouse.

Step 3: Temporary Order Issued

Next, a temporary order is issued to provide immediate rules regarding children and financial matters while the divorce process unfolds. This can be facilitated through a court hearing or by mutual consent between the parties.

The specifics addressed in the temporary order generally cover who will have custody of any minor children, established parenting time schedules, allocation of debt responsibilities between the spouses, as well as outlining child and spousal support arrangements if necessary.

A temporary order can also stipulate who retains possession of the marital home during the divorce process and typically includes provisions that prevent both parties from hiding, depleting, or unlawfully selling any assets.

Step 4: Discovery Phase

After the case has been initiated and any temporary orders are in effect, the discovery phase will begin, where both sides share information relevant to the divorce.

During this period, attorneys engage in a thorough investigation of all relevant facts that could potentially be contentious, using tools such as interrogatories (written questions), depositions (sworn statements made in person), and requests for document production.

Depending on the complexity of the case, attorneys may also consult with various experts like appraisers to assess the value of marital property, accountants for financial analysis, or psychologists to address matters related to child custody arrangements.

Step 5: Negotiations

Following the completion of discovery, attorneys then turn their attention towards negotiations. Attorneys may organize an informal settlement discussion involving all parties in an effort to settle issues outside of court. 

If the parties can find common ground on all or most matters, a mutually agreed-upon settlement document could be drafted and signed. This written agreement typically encompasses all the resolved aspects, such as division of assets and liabilities, spousal support, child support, and parenting time. This prevents the court from having to make these decisions.

Step 6: Mediation

Mediation is another way to resolve issues outside of the courtroom. Couples can opt for this route before even filing for divorce, or at any stage during the waiting period.

Courts will often mandate mediation as part of the divorce proceedings (unless there are domestic violence issues) in an effort to encourage settlements that save time and resources.

The goal is to get parties to sort through their disagreements with the assistance of a neutral third party, known as the mediator, to avoid court intervention.

Step 7: Settlement Conference and Trial if Necessary

As part of the divorce process, a formal settlement conference will be scheduled by the court. During this stage, further attempts are made to resolve outstanding matters, focusing on property division and support issues.

This conference is overseen by a judge and involves both parties as well as their respective attorneys. If an agreement is reached on all necessary terms during this conference, it’s possible for the attorneys to place the terms on the record. This means that the details of the agreement will be officially recited and recorded in court, with the judge listening to ensure all terms are understood by both parties.

If full agreement isn’t reached during the settlement conference, then the judge presiding over your case will have no choice but to set a date for trial. At this time, any unresolved issues will be decided through formal court proceedings.

Step 8: Final Judgment of Divorce is Issued

The last step in the Michigan divorce process is the issuance of a Final Judgment of Divorce. This legal document officially dissolves the marriage and lays out all binding decisions regarding custody issues, parenting time, child and spousal support agreements, as well as asset and property division terms.

Residency Requirements for Michigan Divorce

To file for divorce in Michigan, there’s a residency requirement to ensure that the state has jurisdiction over your case. Either you or your spouse must have been a resident of Michigan for at least 180 days prior to filing the divorce petition.

Additionally, you must file in the circuit court of the county where either party has resided for no less than 10 days immediately preceding the filing. While it is common practice to file in one’s home county, it is not mandatory; you are permitted to file in your spouse’s county of residence if preferred.

Approximate Cost to File For Divorce in Michigan 

The filing fee for a divorce in Michigan usually falls between $175 and $250, depending on the county. Attorney fees of course increase the cost. 

For those concerned about the expenses of hiring an attorney throughout the entire divorce process, an option worth considering is unbundled legal services. With this approach, you can opt for consultation or assistance only in specific areas where you need legal expertise while handling other aspects independently. This flexible arrangement offers a middle ground that provides the help you need without the costs associated with full legal representation.

Reasons for Divorce in Michigan

Michigan operates under a no-fault divorce framework. This means that the spouse filing for divorce, won’t need to prove any form of wrongdoing or fault on the part of their spouse. The only ground typically allowed is an assertion that there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the marital relationship such that it can no longer be expected to continue. In other words, the marriage is broken and cannot be repaired. 

Division of Property in Michigan Divorces

When addressing property division following a divorce in Michigan, courts adhere to the principle of “equitable distribution.” This doesn’t necessarily mean assets will be split equally.

Under equitable distribution, the division of marital assets aims for fairness based on various factors, including each spouse’s contributions and needs. It results in an allocation that treats both parties reasonably without being strictly equal.

Separate property – typically assets and debts incurred before the marriage or inherited specifically by one spouse – is usually not subject to division. The owner of such property is typically awarded full rights to it post-divorce unless the non-owning spouse can demonstrate that they made significant contributions toward enhancing, acquiring, or maintaining that separate property during the marriage.

Alimony Considerations in Michigan

Alimony in divorces serves to maintain an equitable financial balance between the parties during and after the divorce, though it is not always or automatically awarded. Agreements on spousal support that each side consents to will usually be approved by the courts, as long as they don’t impose unreasonable hardship or unfairness onto either party involved. 

If the parties can’t agree, the court will decide if alimony is awarded, how much it amounts to, and how long it should last. The determination of alimony in Michigan takes into account multiple factors, such as the length of the marriage, ages of both parties, capacity to earn a living post-divorce, financial needs, and each party’s ability to pay, among many others.

Courts exercise significant discretion when deciding alimony terms to ensure equity for both parties.

Child Custody in Michigan Divorces

If children are involved, parents in Michigan may reach an agreement about custody that courts will generally endorse, provided it serves the best interests of the child. 

When disputes arise and no decision can be made by the parents, the court will step in and make this decision. The factors they will consider when determining custody – which could be shared or joint – typically include: 

  • Each parent’s emotional connection with the child
  • Parents’ ability to provide love, guidance, and religious or educational upbringing
  • Ability to meet the child’s basic needs like food, clothing, and medical care
  • How long the child has lived in a stable environment and if it should continue for their benefit
  • Whether the existing or proposed home will offer a lasting and stable family life
  • Each parent’s moral behavior and its potential impact on the child
  • Mental and physical health of both parents
  • The child’s preference if they are of sufficient age to express this
  • Each parent’s readiness to support an ongoing relationship between the child and other co-parent
  • Instances of domestic violence and its impact on all family members

These factors and any additional relevant considerations that the court may deem important to a particular child custody situation will be weighed. 

Going through a divorce is undeniably challenging, but during such times it’s reassuring to know that there are resources and legal support available for guidance. And if concerns about costs hold you back, don’t forget about the option of unbundled legal services – a method that allows access to professional advice as needed throughout your journey.

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