Whether you live in Michigan or elsewhere, divorce for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If they have been married for a significant length of time and one of them will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may also arise. If there are minor children, they will also need to resolve issues of child custody, visitation, and support.
Residency and Where to File
In order to file for divorce in Michigan, one of the parties must be a resident of the state for at least 180 days, and a resident of the county for at least 10 days. The 10-day county residence requirement may be avoided if (1) the defendant was born in, or is a citizen of, a country other than the United States, and (2) the parties have a minor child, and (3) there is information that the minor child is at risk of being taken out of the U.S., and retained in another country by the defendant. If the marriage breakdown occurred outside of Michigan, one party must be a resident for 1 year, or it must be proven that the parties lived together as husband and wife within the state, before a judgment may be entered. You may file in the Circuit Court in the county where either party has resided for at least 10 days immediately before filing.
The most simple procedure is an uncontested divorce. This is where you and your spouse can reach an agreement about the division of your property, and, if you have any children, what arrangements will be made for them. You begin the divorce procedure by preparing a document called a Complaint for Divorce, along with various other supporting documents. For an uncontested divorce, one of these documents will be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and your agreement regarding any children. These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Judgment of Divorce.
Grounds for Divorce
Grounds for divorce are legally recognized reasons to get a divorce. This is the justification for severing the marital relationship. Michigan, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for divorce. Unlike most other states, there are no traditional fault-based grounds.
To get a no-fault divorce in Michigan, you need to state in the Complaint for Divorce 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.” No other explanation or details are permitted.
A divorce involves dividing property and debts between you and your spouse. There are no specific property division guidelines in the Michigan divorce law, other than that the judge is to divide the property as he or she “shall deem just and reasonable.”
Alimony in Michigan
In Michigan alimony is called spousal support. Unlike most states, the Michigan spousal support law does not provide much in the way of guidelines. All the Michigan law says is that spousal support may be awarded to either party “as the court considers just and reasonable, after considering the ability of either party to pay and the character and situation of the parties, and all the other circumstances of the case.”
Child Custody in Michigan
If you and your spouse have any minor children, there will have to be a custody determination. It all comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made.
If you and your spouse can reach an agreement on custody, it will be accepted by the judge, unless it is determined by clear and convincing evidence not to be in the child’s best interest. If you cannot reach a custody agreement, the judge will decide the issue, after considering the following factors:
- the love, affection, and other emotional ties between the parties and the child,
- each party’s capacity to give the child love, affection, and guidance, and continue the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any,
- each party’s capacity to provide the child with food, clothing, and medical care or other remedial care permitted under Michigan law,
- the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity,
- the permanence of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes, as a family unit,
- each party’s moral fitness,
- each party’s mental and physical health,
- the home, school, and community record of the child,
- the reasonable preference of the child, if the child is of sufficient age,
- each party’s willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent,
- any domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child,
- if joint custody is considered, whether the parties will be able to cooperate and generally agree concerning important decisions affecting the welfare of the child, and
- any other relevant factor.
Child Support in Michigan
A decision must also be made about how the children will be financially supported. This almost always comes down to one parent paying money to the other. Child support is determined by taking into account the needs of the child, and each parent’s relative ability to meet those needs. This is determined by reference to the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual, which you may be able to obtain from your local Friend of the Court, a public library, or a law library; and may be found at the Michigan Courts Friend of the Court Bureau website.
A court hearing may not be held until at least 60 days after the Complaint is filed; or 6 months if minor children are involved, unless hardship can be shown. All cases will involve some interaction with the Friend of the Court, such as in determining child support and custody, and alimony and property division questions; and later in the processing of support payments, and the enforcement of the Judgment and other court orders.
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