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How to File for a Divorce in Michigan

Many attorneys have recently reported an increase in calls from spouses interested in ending their relationships. Whether or not this uptick is due to the COVID-19 pandemic remains to be seen. Although divorce is common, the divorce process varies depending on the couple’s circumstances.

If you're considering a divorce you may wonder where to begin. How do you file for a divorce in Michigan? What's the legal process once you do file?

Long-term marriages with minor children and considerable property typically result in a complicated and time-consuming process. The divorce process will likely be less costly and quicker for newly-married couples, and couples willing to negotiate terms such as spousal support, child custody, property division, and debt allocation.

How to File For a Divorce in Michigan

Find an attorney

The first step is to find an attorney who specializes in divorce, especially if you have children or property or if you and your spouse cannot agree on terms. Even if the divorce is relatively simple, it’s probably in your best interest to consult with an attorney and learn your rights.

The attorney will help you file initial paperwork to commence the divorce proceeding. The filing spouse must include a statement that informs the courts that one spouse meets Michigan’s residency requirements, which are:

  • One spouse must have been a resident for at least 180 days before filing for a divorce.
  • One person must live in the county for ten days before filing for the divorce.

Michigan is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that the divorce will be granted regardless of whether either party is at fault for the breakdown in the marital relationship. Although Michigan is a no-fault divorce case, fault can be considered when dividing marital property, debts and determining spousal support or alimony. Also, divorcing couples with children must wait six months for the divorce to finalize while those without kids are only required to wait 60 days. For those couples with children who are able to reach a resolution before six months, the court may be willing to waive the six month waiting period if it appears to be in the best interests of the children to do so. These days, most judges appear willing to waive the waiting period.

The parties may seek and the court may enter temporary orders regarding regarding child custody, spousal support, and child support, especially when the parties do not reside together. For temporary orders, the courts will usually hold a hearing before deciding the request. Furthermore, the court usually will issue temporary orders requiring the parties to maintain the status quo and/or to prevent the party from disposing of assets, etc. "For example, if only one party is working, he/she will be required to continue paying all bills as he/she has done in the past. Further, the parties will be prevented from making changes to car insurance, health insurance, etc. The idea is to require the parties to handle their financial affairs in the same manner as they had prior to filing for divorce until a resolution is reached or the parties have their 'day in court'," said Linda McGrail, an O'Reilly Rancilio attorney who specializes in Family Law.

Serve your spouse

After the spouse files a Summons and Complaint with the court, the next step is to serve a copy to the other spouse and file a proof of service with the court. A spouse is not allowed to effectuate service on his or her spouse. However, sometimes a spouse is filling to sign the acknowledgment of service reflecting that he/she has received the documents. Usually, if the “defendant” spouse has an attorney, the attorney will accept service for his or her client. Unfortunately, spouses that are unwilling to accept the divorce may be evasive and try to avoid accepting the document. Therefore, if needed, you may need to hire a professional process server to deliver the documents.

The spouse who receives the paperwork (the defendant or respondent) must file an answer to the Complaint for Divorce within a certain amount of time. Failure to respond by the deadline could result in a default judgment against the defendant. It is never a good idea to ignore a Complaint for Divorce as your spouse could seek entry of a judgment that is adverse to your interests.

Negotiate the settlement

The vast majority of cases ultimately settle without having a trial. In cases where the spouses have different opinions on topics such as spousal support, child custody, or the distribution of assets/liabilities the spouses (usually through their respective attorneys) will hire a mediator to help reach a resolution of contested issues.. Mediation is where a neutral third-party (usually another attorney) works with the spouses to resolve issues.

If mediation fails, the matter may go to trial. Most couples try to avoid a costly and time-consuming divorce trial because it ultimately takes decision-making power away from the couple and puts it in the hands of a judge. It is also a very costly process.

Finalizing the divorce

The final step of the divorce is when a judge enters the judgment of divorce, ending the marriage. The judgment also includes spousal and child support, custodial responsibilities and parenting time, and the division of assets and liabilities. The judgment of divorce is a legally binding document and executing a judgment of divorce without legal counsel can have significant adverse effects if not performed properly.

The family law attorneys with O’Reilly Rancilio in Sterling Heights are available to help you if you are considering a divorce. For more information, please call 586-726-1000 or visit our website.

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