There’s an old saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Unfortunately, when spouses are going through a divorce, nothing could be farther from the truth. Bitter feelings can cause otherwise reasonable people to engage in long legal battles that consume enormous amounts of time, money, and energy.
That doesn’t always have to be the case, though. If you and your spouse are still able to talk and make mutual decisions, you might be able to get an uncontested divorce, which will save you a lot of time and money.
This article will explain uncontested divorces in Michigan. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.
An uncontested divorce simply means that both spouses agree on all the key terms of the divorce, including:
If you or your spouse disagree about any of these items, your divorce will be considered "contested" and it will go to trial. But keep in mind, you can still reach an agreement at any time before the judge issues a final order.
Michigan doesn’t have special legal rules to expedite (rush) uncontested cases. However, if your case follows either of the following paths, it will move through the system more quickly than if you went all the way to trial and waited for a judge to decide.
There are two more rules you’ll need to follow before you file for divorce in Michigan.
First, there's a residency requirement for divorce. One of the two spouses must have lived in Michigan for at least 180 days before the divorce papers are filed at the courthouse, and one of the spouses must also have lived in the county where the papers were filed for at least 10 days. The 10-day requirement doesn’t apply and the divorce papers can be filed in any county in the state if you’re an American citizen, you have kids, and you have solid information that the other spouse might abduct the children and take them to another country.
Second, you need to give the court a legal reason (“grounds”) for the divorce. There’s only one ground in Michigan: 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—which is just a fancy legal way of saying that your marriage is so badly damaged that it can’t be saved and it has to end in divorce.
You’re responsible for knowing where to file your papers. If you file in the wrong place, your case could be tossed out or transferred and you might have to start over.
There are three levels of trial courts in Michigan, so it’s easy to get confused. The first two are the district courts and probate courts, which don’t handle family law. Your case doesn’t belong there. Instead, the third level of trial courts, the circuit courts, presides over all divorce cases. There are 57 circuit courts in Michigan, so the judicial branch has prepared a map you can use to identify the correct circuit court for your case.
If you’re the "plaintiff," (the spouse that is requesting the divorce) the first thing you need to do is locate the correct forms and complete them. You can use this interactive, web-based form generator or you can get paper copies from a clerk at the courthouse. The key documents you'll prepare are the summons and complaint, which gives the court information about you, your spouse, your marriage, and what you want out of the divorce.
At some point, if the case doesn’t end in default, you and your spouse may want to complete and file a written settlement agreement, which must settle all your issues related to property, money, children, and alimony. If you don’t agree on everything at the beginning of your case, you can prepare this later.
Take your time and work carefully. Type everything on a computer or write or print neatly. If you rush through the papers and make mistakes, your divorce could be delayed. Feel free to talk to the court clerks who work in the courthouse, but keep in mind that they can’t give you any legal advice. You may be able to find helpful information, resources and possibly legal help through Michigan Courts: For the General Public, Michigan Legal Help (divorce information), or this Listing of Legal Aid and Other Helpful Organizations.
If you still have questions or concerns or you aren't getting the help you need, you should consult with a family law attorney in your area.
Next, you’ll file your divorce papers in the correct courthouse. You’ll need the summons and complaint, and any other required documents that were listed in the instructions that came with your forms.
The clerk of court will charge a filing fee, but if you can't afford to pay, don't worry. You can ask for a fee waiver form, which you’ll fill out and use to provide the court with financial information. If you meet the income guidelines, a judge will sign an order eliminating all fees for the duration of the case.
Following the filing, you need to serve the papers on the "defendant" (the other spouse) by having them delivered. You will serve the papers through a process server or sheriff’s deputy, or by sending them to the defendant via certified U.S. Mail. Whatever method you choose, it’s critical that you get an affidavit of service signed and filed at the courthouse. Pay attention to the rules and be cautious, because there are very strict rules governing what is and what isn’t proper service.
If the case is still contested and you haven’t been able to settle yet, the defendant will file an answer to the complaint. The answer just explains what parts of the complaint the defendant does and doesn’t agree with. Just because the defendant files an answer doesn’t mean the case has to be contested and go to trial. You can still settle everything later. In fact, you can even give mediation a try if you’re having trouble working together.
But if the defendant agrees with everything you’ve put in the complaint, or you have a written settlement agreement that resolves every issue, the defendant doesn’t have to file an answer at all. If that happens, the defendant will be in default either 21 days from the date of personal service (if a sheriff or process server handed over the papers) or 28 days from the date of service by mail.
Once defendants are in default, they remain in default for the rest of the divorce unless and until they file a motion asking to set aside the default—but that’s unlikely to happen if you and your spouse are in agreement about everything.
The plaintiff can then schedule a final hearing. There’s a waiting period before the divorce can be granted: two months if you don’t have children together, and six months if you do. The final hearing won’t occur until the waiting period has ended.
The plaintiff must attend the final hearing. The judge will have some brief questions about the settlement, but if the judge thinks the agreement is fair and everything is in order, he or she will sign the final divorce decree.