Basics of the Divorce Process in Michigan

Once the decision to divorce is made, the task of taking the next step, and actually making the divorce a reality, can be challenging without the right advice. Most people do not have first hand knowledge of the procedures, and many have received misinformation from others.
This article will summarize some basic information to know about the divorce process in Michigan. This is only intended for very basic and general information purposes and should not be construed as legal advice. Prior to filing for divorce, this information should be combined with a discussion with an attorney about your specific circumstances and issues.

Some basic facts about divorce in Michigan:

  • Michigan is a "no fault" divorce state. This means that there is no need to prove that the other party is at fault to get a divorce.Once propertry and custody issues are resolved, either party may obtain a divorce by swearing that the following is true: "There has been a breakdown in 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."
  • To get a divorce in Michigan, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for a minimum of six months prior to filing the case for divorce. In addition, one of you must have lived in the county where the case is being filed for at least ten days prior to the filing.
  • When there are no children born of the marriage, there is a minimum wait of 60 days between when the divorce case is filed and when it can be finalized. In cases where there are children, the minimum waiting period is 180 days from the date the case is filed. Some judges may allow a case to be finalized prior to the expiration of the 180 day period if the parties agree on all aspects of the divorce and certain requirements are met.
  • In general, judges in Michigan have been asked by the Michigan Supreme Court to assure that most cases where children are involved are finalized within one year of filing, and that most cases where there are no children are finalized within nine months of filing. Courts therefore usually establish schedules designed to accomplish this goal, and may dismiss cases that do not keep to the schedules.
  • Of all of the cases for divorce that are filed, all but one or two percent are finalized as a result of the parties being able to agree on a settlement of all issues. Your attorney is therefore not just someone who represents you in court. It is important for your attorney to help you and your spouse work toward settlement of issues, including scheduling meetings between you and your attorney and your spouse and his or her attorney. Your attorney will also guide you toward other ways of reaching agreement, including mediation if appropriate. For those one or two percent that are not resolved by agreement of the parties, a decision regarding property and/or custody will be made either by a judge following trial, or by an attorney serving as arbitrator at the request of the parties.
  • The Divorce is started with the filing of a "Complaint for Divorce" with the County Clerk's office at Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. At that time, a judge is assigned to the case. Your attorney may recommend that you ask the court to enter other orders at the time of filing. Your attorney will help you to accomplish "service" of the case to your spouse, which is an official way of notifying your spouse that the case has begun. If you are the one who receives the notice that your spouse has filed the case, your attorney will help you to file an answer to the complaint within 21 days of receiving notice, and advise if other action is recommended.
  • One of the important processes that takes place during a divorce is called "discovery". In this process, information that is relevant to being able to finalize the case is obtained from either the opposing side or a third party. In some cases, this is simple, but it can be more complicated depending on the nature of your property and custody issues. Some examples are business valuation when a small business is owned, property appraisals when one or more pieces of real estate are owned, or information clarifying pension and retirement benefits. In general, each party is entitled to "discover" information that is relevant to finalization of their cases.
  • For divorces where there are children involved, the important decisions that the parties need to make include:
  • Legal custody: who will make decisions regarding education, medical care, religion, and similar matters regarding the children.
  • Parenting time: how much time will the children spend with each parent
  • Child support: which parent, if either, will pay support to the other and what amount will be paid. Generally, support is calculated according to a Formula based on the income of both parties and the amount of time spent with each parent. The Friend of the Court will conduct an investigation and make recommendations regarding support, but your attorney can also help to calculate support.
  • Parents in Wayne County may be required to attend one of the Parenting Interaction Programs
  • For all divorces, decisions will need to be made regarding:
  • What are the assets and liabilities that the parties have accumulated during their marriage?
  • What is the value of each?
  • Should all of these be considered as marital property to be divided:
  • Are there other assets or liabilities that either party had before the marriage that should be considered as marital property? If so, what is the value of each? How will assets and liabilities be divided?
  • The question of other possible support issues, such as payment of spousal support by one party to the other, or payment of other expenses such as life insurance or health insurance, will also need to be resolved.
  • There are specific documents that need to be prepared before your case can be finalized. A Judgment of Divorce needs to be prepared and other documents, including a Uniform Support Order for child support, spousal support, or both. There is specific language that must be included in Judgments of Divorce, and it is best to consult with an attorney to make sure that the Judgment is properly prepared. If a binding agreement has been previously made, such as in mediation, it must be incorporated accurately into the Judgment.
  • No matter how the Judgment is finalized, at least one of the parties, usually the person who originally filed the Divorce Complaint, will need to appear on at least one occasion before the judge in Court to place the "proofs" on the record. Generally, this is to confirm that the information contained in the Complaint is correct, including that the jurisdiction requirement (amount of time living in Michigan and the County where filed) has been met and that there has in fact been a breakdown of the marriage. This appearance and required recitation into the record is required by statute before your case can be finalized.
As stated above, this is a basic idea of the process, and your attorney will help you to navigate the process carefully. Please click here to find an attorney. If you think you may qualify for legal aid, please click here for more information about legal aid.
The State Bar of Michigan also provides detailed information about divorce. Please click here to visit their resources. The State Bar of Michigan Family Law Section also has a special publication "Meet Your Family Lawyer" which has important and helpful information.