According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, there were 133,475 divorces between 2010 and 2013. This is an average of 33,369 divorces per year.
I can’t imagine that making the decision to divorce one’s spouse is an easy one to make. There is a lot more involved than just who gets the house or car. For many people, they don’t even know where to start. As divorce attorneys, people come in to our office looking for legal representation for a divorce, and many of the same questions are asked. Below is a brief overview of the basic requirements and steps for a divorce, without minor children, in Michigan.
1. Filing a Complaint
The first step that must be taken to initiate divorce proceedings is to file a Complaint in the court with jurisdiction over the matter. In order to file a Complaint, one of the spouses (or parties) must have resided in Michigan for at least 180 days prior to the filing of the Complaint. The Complaint is filed at the county circuit court level, but must be filed in the county in which one of the parties has resided for ten days prior to the filing of the Complaint. For example, if you have lived in Michigan for five years prior to the filing of your Complaint, you have satisfied the first requirement. If you want to file your Complaint in Ingham County Circuit Court, you or your spouse must have lived in Ingham County for at least ten days prior to the filing of the Complaint. If you and your spouse both reside in Eaton County, you cannot file a Complaint in Ingham County Circuit Court, unless and until one of you moves to Ingham County and resides there for ten days prior to filing the Complaint. This is known as the jurisdictional requirement. Because you are filing the Complaint, you are the Plaintiff and your spouse is the Defendant.
The Complaint must include all of the provisions required by court rule and statute. As previously mentioned, Michigan is a no-fault divorce state. The only “explanation” that must be included is the following “magic language”:
“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.”
The Complaint must then be filed with the court.
2. Serving a Summons and Complaint
After the Complaint is filed with the Court, it must be served, along with a Summons, on your spouse. The Summons is a notice that an action has been brought against your spouse. The Summons and Complaint can be served upon your spouse via personal service; service my certified mail; service by process server; or, if all else has failed, service by publication (if permitted by the court). Once the Complaint is served, your spouse has 21 days to file an Answer to the Complaint with the court. If your spouse fails to do so, he or she may have a Default Judgment entered against him or her.
3. Waiting and Engaging in Discovery
With no minor children, there is a 60-day waiting period before you can actually be divorced. This waiting period begins when you file your Complaint with the Court . This is the minimum amount of time that it will take for the divorce to be finalized. If there are issues regarding the division of property, alimony, child support, and child custody, the divorce is likely to take much longer. During this time, the parties can engage in discovery. In Michigan, each party is required to disclose all of his or her assets. There are many mechanisms by which discovery can be undertaken. An experienced attorney knows what questions to ask and the appropriate discovery tools to use.
4. Reaching Settlement
During the time set for discovery, and even after that time, the parties should attempt to reach a settlement regarding the terms of the divorce. This includes an agreement regarding the division and property of debt and spousal support (alimony). If you cannot come to an agreement, you may be referred to a mediator, arbitrator, or the court.
If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on the terms of the divorce, you may have to go to trial. The trial is a bench trial, meaning that it is heard by the judge only, no jury. The judge will listen to the evidence presented and make a decision regarding the terms of your divorce.
5. Judgment of Divorce
Once the terms of the divorce have been agreed upon, either between the parties themselves or via a mediator’s decision, arbitrator’s decision, or judge’s decision, a judgment of divorce will be signed by the judge. This judgment will end your marriage and will outline the division of property and debts, as well as any spousal support.
Divorce is not an emotionally or psychologically easy obstacle to confront and overcome; but, it can be a relatively painless legal process. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and the ease (or difficulty) with which the process moves is highly case specific and fact dependent – that’s where hiring an experienced divorce attorney can really help. Hopefully, this article has eased some of your fears regarding the divorce process.