Divorce Advice: Michigan
UPDATED: June 29, 2020
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- Michigan is a no-fault, equitable distribution state.
- Equitable distribution is an attempt to treat both parties fairly even if that means not dividing assets equally between spouses.
- Child custody is based on the best interest of the child, which is defined by specific factors in Michigan.
- Marriages in Michigan can also be ended by annulment. Legal separations are also available and function similarly to divorces, although the parties are not considered legally single.
Like every other state in the country, Michigan has its own laws and rules governing the process of divorce. We're going to tell you about the requirements for getting a Michigan divorce or legal separation; whether or not mediation will be required for your Michigan divorce; what the rules are for annulments in Michigan; and other answers to your questions regarding Michigan divorces.
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Overview of Michigan Divorce Laws
Every state has different rules, procedures, and laws concerning divorce. Some states have a longer "cooling off" period — the minimum length of time between filing for divorce and that divorce being granted. Some states charge different filing fees or use different process services, too.
The biggest differences from state to state concern whether fault is assessed and how property is divided. Michigan is a no-fault divorce state and uses the equitable distribution system to divide the property.
What are the grounds for divorce in Michigan?
The only grounds for divorce in Michigan is that there has 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."
You should not list any other grounds or reasons for wanting a divorce in the document you file with the court, which is called a Complaint for Divorce and Judgment of Divorce. You file this with your local Circuit Court. Once the judge approves your divorce, you will become an unmarried person again.
What is a no-fault divorce?
When you file for divorce you will state the ground for seeking to end your marriage. Currently, every state recognizes no-fault divorce, and fault-based divorce is becoming rare.
Just like it sounds, fault-based complaints for divorce claim that the dissolution of the marriage is one party's fault. Common fault-based grounds are things like adultery or abandonment.
Michigan is one of the states that has done away entirely with fault as grounds for divorce. The only grounds that can be listed is the one quoted above: that there has 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."
Though there can be no fault-based ground for divorce in Michigan, fault still matters. When Michigan courts determine how much spousal support (sometimes known as alimony) to award, one of the factors considered will be which partner was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.
What is equitable distribution?
Most states divide property during a divorce using the equitable distribution system. A minority of states use the community property system to divide property.
In either case, the first step in the division of property is the same: determine what is and is not marital property. There are only a few situations in which something would not be considered marital property.
- Property owned before the marriage is not marital property unless something happens to change it into marital property. For example, a house owned by one spouse before the marriage is not marital property. If the other spouse is added to the deed, though, it becomes marital property.
- Inherited property, even if it was inherited during the marriage, is not marital property. Like property from before the marriage, though, the inherited property can become marital property.
- In most states, property acquired after separation is separate rather than marital property.
Once marital property and separate property are identified, the treatment of that property is different in the two types of states.
In community property states, the marital property is generally divided between the spouses 50/50.
In equitable distribution states, the division of property is more complicated. The goal in these states is a fair distribution that takes into account the different circumstances that both parties may find themselves in and what would be most fair.
Michigan is an equitable distribution state. Spousal support is part of the equitable distribution; courts will take into account the roles each spouse had in the marriage, the relative earning power of each spouse, and the role each had in the dissolution of the marriage in deciding if spousal support or an uneven division is fair.
Keep in mind that this idea of fairness is not part of the determination a judge in Michigan will make regarding child support and custody. Child support and custody are not about fairness but the best interest of the children.
In Michigan, child support is calculated based on how much time the parents will have custody of the children and the income of the parents. Custody will be determined based on the best interest of the child, and in Michigan, this is determined by analyzing 12 specific factors.
Where do you file for divorce in Michigan?
To file for divorce in Michigan, one of the parties in the marriage must have been a resident of the state for 180 days and a resident of the county in which the petition is filed for 10 days.
Under certain circumstances, the 10-day requirement will be waived and the petition can be filed in any county in the state.
- If the defendant was born in another country,
- there are children involved, and
- there is evidence supporting a belief that the children may be taken out of the country by the defendant, the aforementioned requirements will be waived.
This waiver is intended to address only a very specific circumstance. If there isn't a good reason to fear that the children of the marriage will be taken out of the country, the petition for divorce must be filed in the county of residence.
The Office of the Clerk of the County Circuit Court in the county where the petition is filed will be managing your paperwork with the court. Generally, Clerk of Court staff is willing and able to answer questions and provide guidance in a limited way.
To ensure that you file in the proper court, the state of Michigan provides this map to aid in locating your circuit court.
What special divorce procedures are available in Michigan?
As many states do, Michigan provides for an uncontested divorce. An uncontested divorce is only available if, just like it sounds, neither party contests any elements of the divorce agreement.
This includes all issues of custody, division of assets and property, and spousal support. An uncontested divorce does not necessarily resolve more quickly than other divorces in Michigan, but an agreement between both parties can usually make the process faster and easier.
How does divorce mediation work in Michigan?
Mediation is an option that many divorcing couples choose when working out the specific terms of their settlement agreement. It's less expensive than hiring two lawyers, and perhaps more importantly, can help maintain an amicable relationship between the parties. This can be especially important when children are involved.
In Michigan, the court will make mediation available to parents who can't agree about custody or visitation issues, but no one will be required to meet with the mediators.
Alternatives to Divorce in Michigan
Usually, divorce is the end of a relationship. There are some famous exceptions, but most often after divorce, the two spouses go their separate ways. In light of the finality of divorce, couples may want to consider less extreme options.
Furthermore, when a marriage was entered into improperly, divorce may be the wrong way to address the situation. In either case, Michigan courts are equipped to help.
What is a legal separation in Michigan?
Legal separation provides the same court-ordered framework for a couple that a divorce order does, but allows for the possibility of reconciliation.
In Michigan, a party may bring an action for separate maintenance (in their local circuit court) on the same grounds as an action for divorce. This is treated effectively the same as a divorce, but neither party will become single as a result.
This could be a form of trial separation or a way to legally separate when religion or personal conviction forbids divorce. Another reason that separate maintenance is sought is to effectively divorce while remaining eligible for a spouse's health benefits.
Separate maintenance will not be granted if the other party submits a claim for divorce. In that event, the case is heard as a divorce case, at the end of which both parties will be designated single.
How do you get an annulment in Michigan?
An annulment is when a court declares your marriage legally invalid. In other words, rather than ending a marriage via divorce, an annulment is a declaration that the marriage was never valid to begin with. A marriage can be annulled due to many factors.
In Michigan, there are five reasons that an annulment would be granted.
- A marriage can be annulled as invalid if either party was already married.
- A marriage between two people who are too-closely related under Michigan law can be annulled.
- If either party was incapable of entering into the marriage due to some incapacity, the marriage can be annulled.
- If either party was below the age of consent at the time of the marriage, the marriage can be annulled, but only if the couple doesn't cohabitate after they're both past the age of consent.
- If one spouse was tricked or forced to marry the other, the marriage can be annulled under Michigan law.
What To Do Next
When it comes to divorce, Michigan is a no-fault, equitable distribution state. That means that Michigan courts will not find that one party was responsible for the dissolution of the marriage, but the actions of the parties can be considered in the distribution of assets.
The way courts divide the marital property is called equitable distribution. This process attempts to treat both parties fairly based on their roles in the marriage, behavior toward one another during the marriage, and relative contribution and need. A court can order spousal support as part of the distribution, which can be temporary or ongoing.
Michigan allows for an uncontested divorce, but if either party disagrees with any facet of the arrangement it will be a contested divorce that requires a hearing. Factors that must be addressed in a divorce agreement include division of property, child custody, and spousal support.
Child custody in a contested divorce will be based on the best interest of the child. In Michigan, there are specific factors that courts use to determine the best interest of any children in a custody dispute.
Michigan also allows for long term legal separation or annulment if divorce isn't the right avenue for your marriage.
Hopefully, we've answered all your questions about divorce in Michigan.
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