Answering frequently asked family law questions

What is a divorce?
A judgment of divorce recorded in the court’s records dissolves a marriage between two people. In a divorce, spousal support (alimony), property settlement and debt responsibility for the parties are issues that are addressed, as well as custody and parenting time of any minor children of the parties.
What do I have to do to get a divorce?
A complaint must be filed with a court having jurisdiction to hear the matter, and the complaint must ask the court to dissolve the marriage between two people. When the complaint is filed, the proper filing fee needs to be paid. The amount of the fee varies depending on whether minor children are involved. The complaint needs to set forth the grounds for obtaining a divorce and allege “that there has been a breakdown in the marital relationship, such that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed, and there appears no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.” The party filing the complaint for divorce needs to allege that one of the parties has resided in the state of Michigan for at least six months and has resided in the county where the complaint is filed for at least 10 days immediately prior to the filing of the complaint.
How long does it take to get a divorce?
If there are no minor children (less than 18 years of age) involved, 60 days is the earliest that a divorce judgment can be obtained. If there are minor children involved, then the parties must wait 180 days before a judgment of divorce can be obtained. In emergency situations, the six-month waiting period may, with permission of the court, be shortened upon showing of need (i.e. one party is about to leave the country due to military deployment, etc).
I need help now; what can I do before the divorce is granted?
It seems simple, but the most important thing you can do is to immediately consult with an experienced divorce law attorney. Custody issues are often the most complex. A party seeking primary custody of minor children should not move out of the marital home without taking the children with them. If domestic violence is ongoing, contact a family law attorney before moving out to determine your options. Division of property and debts can also be multifaceted. What actions you initially take can have a large impact on the ultimate question of who gets what property and debts (home, retirement benefits, credit card debts, who pays for student loans, etc.), and who gets what type of custody, i.e. joint, sole legal or sole physical custody.
Can I get alimony?
Whether you receive alimony (also known as spousal support) depends to a large degree on 14 separate factually driven “factors.” Your age, the length of marriage and your health are often considered to be the most important factors. A spouse in a long-term marriage — 10 years or more — who earns far less than the other spouse has a greater chance of being awarded alimony than someone in a short-term marriage who earns about the same as his or her spouse. Spousal support can be transitional. This type of alimony lasts two or three years to allow one party to complete an education or enter the workforce. Alimony can also be awarded on a long-term basis. Alimony may either be in gross (lump sum) or periodic (weekly or monthly). Periodic alimony may end with remarriage, but always upon the death of either party.
How will our property be divided in the divorce?
In Michigan, assets and debts will be divided equitably, which means roughly a 50/50 division. This can vary in each case. When one spouse is at fault for causing the breakdown of the marriage, for example, because he or she had an affair or abused the other spouse, the “at-fault” party may receive less of the parties’ assets and more of their debt. Assets acquired and debts incurred during the marriage are subject to division in the divorce. Assets owned before the marriage, or acquired during the marriage through gift or inheritance, may be deemed “the separate property” of one party and not a marital asset. Even these “separate assets” may be invaded, or reached by the other spouse in certain situations, in order to “do equity.”
How is child support ordered in Michigan?
It is largely dependent on how many overnights the child(ren) spend(s) with each parent and each parent’s income. Judges and representatives of friend of the court are required to utilize the Michigan Child Support Formula to determine the amount of child support one parent should pay the other. In justifiable and rare circumstances, judges may deviate from the formula.
How will child custody and visitation be determined?
If the parties are not able to agree on custody and parenting time issues, the county friend of the court will make an initial recommendation as to both issues on a temporary basis. This recommendation typically becomes the order of the family law judge assigned to hear the parties’ divorce case. If either party objects to the initial recommendation of the friend of the court, they may request that a full formal evidentiary hearing be conducted by the referee of the friend of the court. At the time of such a formal hearing, a mini-trial occurs, where witnesses are called, sworn and able to be cross-examined by the parties or their attorneys. After the formal hearing has been completed, the referee will issue a written opinion making a recommendation for custody, parenting time and child support. If either party or their attorney timely objects to the recommendation of the referee, then both parties will be allowed to have a “De Novo” custody trial before the family law judge assigned to hear their case.

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