If you're getting divorced, you should know how the process works. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about divorce in Michigan.
After you file for divorce in Michigan, there's a mandatory waiting period before the court will schedule the hearing needed to get your final divorce judgment. If you and your spouse don't have minor children, the minimum wait is 60 days. But you'll generally have to wait six months to get a hearing when you do have children. If waiting that long would cause an unusual hardship, or you have another compelling need to get your final divorce sooner than six months, you may ask the court to schedule the hearing after the 60-day mandatory minimum has passed. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 552.9f (2022).)
If have an uncontested divorce in Michigan—meaning that you and your spouse have agreed about all of the legal issues involved in ending your marriage—you probably can get divorced fairly soon after the waiting period has expired. The actual amount of time it will take largely depends on how busy your local court is and how long it takes to get a hearing scheduled.
The process can take far longer if you have a contested divorce. When divorcing couples have disputes, that unleashes a sequence of legal procedures that can stretch over many months. It's not unusual for a contested case to take a year or more to conclude, depending on whether they're finally able to settle their disputes or they have to go to trial (more on that below).
Yes. Under Michigan law, either you or your spouse must have been a state resident for at least 180 days just before your file the divorce complaint (the document that starts the divorce process). Also, one of you must also have lived for at least 10 days in the county where you start your case. However, if there's a reasonable risk that your spouse could take your minor children out of the U.S. (to a country where your spouse is a citizen or native), you may file the divorce papers in any Michigan county, as long as you meet the state residency requirement. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 552.9 (2022).)
Many states provide for both "no-fault" and "fault" grounds (legal reasons) for divorce. But Michigan is strictly a no-fault state, which means it doesn't allow you to file for divorce based on a claim that your spouse engaged in misconduct like adultery, cruelty, or desertion. The only ground for divorce in Michigan is that there's been a "breakdown of 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." (Mich. Comp. Laws § 552.6(1) (2022).) In other words, the marriage is broken beyond repair.
No problem. Michigan's "long-arm" statute allows "service" (delivery) of the divorce papers to a spouse even when that spouse lives in another state. The out-of-state spouse simply has a bit more time to respond to the complaint. (Mich. Rules of Court, rule 2.105 (2022).)
When you and your spouse have a minor child (or children) together, that can have a big impact on how your divorce case proceeds. Disputes about child custody and parenting time are often the most difficult issues that divorcing couples face.
The most important thing to know about custody disputes is that Michigan prioritizes the best interests of the children—not necessarily what the parents want. And the law presumes that it's in children's best interests to have a strong relationship with both parents. Beyond that presumption, judges must also consider a number of factors when they're what's best for the children. (Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 722.23. 722.27a (2022).)
These days, judges typically prefer to award joint legal custody, meaning that both parents will together make the important decisions about their children's lives, such as where the kids go to school, how they're raised in a religious tradition, and non-emergency medical treatment. In effect, the parents will need to agree about these issues. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.26a(1) (2022).)
Questions about physical custody—where children will live and how much time each parent will spend with them—can get more complicated. The answers to these questions depend on the children's ages and needs, as well as the parents' circumstances (such as where they live and whether they can provide suitable housing and supervision for the children). Judges usually do everything they can to ensure that children can maintain a relationship with both parents, which often means some form of shared physical custody. But it's typical for the children to live most of the time with one parent (the "custodial parent"), while spending as much time with the noncustodial parent as is workable under the circumstances.
Because custody disputes can be so emotionally charged, they tend to take a toll on parents and children alike. Anxiety and bitterness levels escalate, as do legal fees, as the battle rages on. That's why it's so important for parents to make every effort to resolve their differences and work out a custody agreement. Custody mediation can be an important tool to help them do just that.
In contrast to custody issues, divorcing couples typically resolve the issue of child support relatively easily. That's because Michigan uses a formula for calculating the amount of support. Basically, after plugging in the parents' incomes, the formula sets a baseline amount of amount that's divided between the parents, depending on their parenting time. It is possible to challenge the amount of support calculated under the formula, but most parents manage to settle the child support issue without too much legal wrangling.
No. Cases are heard by judges only, in specialized family law courts.
No. In the vast majority of divorces, couples sign a settlement agreement at some point, either before they file for an uncontested divorce or later in the process. There are many reasons for this. Cost is one: Divorce cases that go to trial are the most expensive (again, think legal fees) and take the longest to resolve.
The increasing use of divorce mediation is another reason that many couples avoid trial. Almost no one wants their future, the future of their children, and their property rights determined by a judge who knows little to nothing about them or their family. It's far better for most couples to reach an agreement both can live with, whether through direct negotiations, mediation, or settlement discussions through their lawyers. In Michigan, if couples haven't been able to reach an agreement before filing for divorce, a judge may order them to participate in mediation. (Mich. Rules of Court, rule 3.216 (2022).)
However, you should know that mediation or direct negotiations can only work if there's a relatively level playing field between the spouses. That normally doesn't exist in cases involving domestic abuse, because an abused spouse is usually afraid to speak freely, for fear of retaliation. In those situations, it's almost always best to attempt negotiations only through a lawyer. If that doesn't work, a trial may be the only viable option.
It depends on your situation. If you have an uncontested divorce, you may very well be able to handle the filing and the rest of the divorce process on your own, without hiring a lawyer. You may use the do-it-yourself forms available from Michigan Legal Help. You could also file for divorce online by using a service that will provide you with the proper forms, completed based on your answers to a questionnaire.
In some situations, however, you should seriously consider hiring a lawyer, such as when:
Even if you believe your case will be relatively straightforward, it makes sense to at least consult with a lawyer at some point in the process. For instance, it's wise to have an attorney review your settlement agreement to make sure that you haven't missed anything or given up your legal rights.