You can obtain a simple divorce in Michigan, called an “uncontested divorce,” which may 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:
Couples seeking an uncontested divorce should resolve all issues on their own or with the help of a mediator. Any settlement should be memorialized into a written divorce agreement. If you and your spouse aren’t able to reach an agreement on all issues, your divorce will be considered "contested" and a judge will decide your case at trial. However, couples 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, your divorce will move more quickly if your case follows either of the following paths:
Before you can file for divorce in Michigan, you must meet the state’s residency requirements. You or your spouse must have lived in Michigan for at least 180 days before you file the divorce papers. Additionally, one spouse must have lived in the county where the papers were filed for at least 10 days. In limited circumstances, you can waive the 10-day county residence requirement if you’re a U.S. citizen, you have children, and you have good reason and supporting evidence to suspect that your spouse might abduct the children and take them to another country. See Mich. Rev. Stat. § 552.9 (2020).
If you elect to handle your case yourself, you’re responsible for filling out your divorce papers and knowing where to file. If you file your paperwork 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. District courts and probate courts don’t handle family law cases. You’ll need to file your case in the circuit courts which preside over all divorce matters. There are 57 circuit courts in Michigan, but the Michigan Judicial Branch has a map you can use to locate the correct circuit court for your case.
If you’re the "plaintiff," (the spouse requesting the divorce) the first thing you need to do is locate the correct divorce forms and complete them. You can use this interactive, web-based form generator provided by Michigan Legal Help for online legal forms or you can get paper copies from a clerk at the courthouse.
The key documents you'll need to prepare are the summons and complaint, which gives the court information about you, your spouse, your marriage, and what you hope to obtain in your divorce. You can learn more about the divorce process on Michigan Courts Self-Help Center site.
Within your divorce paperwork, you’ll need to identify a legal reason or (“ground”) for the divorce. Michigan is a pure no-fault state, which means the only acceptable ground for divorce is that the marriage is irretrievably broken, which is just a fancy way of saying your marriage is so badly damaged that it can’t be saved and it has to end in divorce.
At some point, if the case doesn’t end in default, you and your spouse will need to complete and file a written settlement agreement, which resolves all issues related to property, money, children, and alimony in your case.
You should take your time and work carefully on any paperwork. It’s a good idea to type everything on a computer or write or print neatly. If you rush through the papers and make mistakes, your divorce could be delayed. Although you can ask the court clerks basic questions, clerks can’t give you legal advice. If you need more information check out the Michigan Legal Help website.
Although the process to obtain an uncontested divorce is simpler than a contested one, you still need to follow many of the typical divorce procedures. Each step must be completed before a judge can sign off on your divorce.
Once your paperwork is complete, you’ll need to file your divorce papers in the correct courthouse including the summons, complaint, and any other required documents that were listed in the instructions that came with your forms.
When you file your paperwork, the clerk of court will charge a filing fee. If you can’t afford to pay the filing fee, 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 may serve the papers through a process server or sheriff’s deputy or your spouse may agree to accept service of the papers by filing a written waiver. 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 your spouse won’t sign the divorce settlement paperwork, he or she may file an answer to your divorce complaint. An 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 your case will go to trial. You can still settle everything later. In fact, you can even give mediation a try if you’re having trouble working out an agreement with your spouse.
In situations where the defendant agrees with everything you’ve put in the complaint, or you have a written settlement agreement, the defendant doesn’t have to file an answer at all. In that case, you and your spouse can file the final divorce paperwork together or a judge may enter a default judgment against your spouse, granting you everything asked for in the divorce complaint.
Once the defendant’s time to respond to the divorce petition has expired, the plaintiff can schedule a final hearing. In Michigan, there’s a waiting period before the divorce can be granted—it’s two months for couples without kids and six months for couples with children. Even if you and your spouse are in complete agreement about the divorce, 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 court finds that the agreement is fair and everything is in order, a judge will sign and issue the final divorce decree.