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Michigan Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
The spouse who files for divorce is called the plaintiff and this is the spouse that will complete the necessary documents for filing; the other spouse is called the defendant.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
The plaintiff files for divorce in the circuit court in the county where either spouse lives, and the action begins when the plaintiff files a summons, complaint, and other required papers with the court. No appointment is required to file the paperwork - the papers can be filed during the court’s normal business hours. At the time of filing, the plaintiff pays a filing fee and an a judgment fee. If he or she cannot afford to pay the fees, the plaintiff can file for a fee waiver.
Serving the Documents
After the forms are filed, the plaintiff must “serve” (deliver) the divorce papers to the other spouse. A sheriff’s deputy can do this and so can another adult, who personally hands the papers to the defendant or mails the papers by registered or certified mail, with return receipt requested. Whoever serves the defendant must complete and sign a Proof of Service form and return it to the plaintiff, who must then file the completed Proof of Service form with the county clerk.
Additionally, if the defendant agrees beforehand, the plaintiff may be able to give the papers to him or her. However, the plaintiff should ask the court clerk if this is permitted, because in most cases then plaintiff cannot personally serve a defendant.
Disclosing Financial Information
In Michigan, when married couples split up, a disclosure of each party's assets and liabilities aren’t always required. Still, an Affidavit of Financial Disclosure, or Financial Affidavit, is a good idea in many cases. The Financial Affidavit lists each person's assets, income, expenditures and liabilities. The court may use this document when determining which party will have child custody or pay child or spousal support.
The process of putting clear-cut financial information on paper may seem simple enough, but many divorcing couples soon find out that filling out a Financial Affidavit is more complicated than expected. Nonetheless, the form can be extremely important, especially in divorces involving considerable assets or heavy debt.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
Children, child custody and support, marital property and whether either spouse may seek alimony – all may be considered in a divorce. A judge can decide all of these issues, if any of them are contested between the spouses, but the process is usually much quicker and will usually costs less in legal fees if the spouses can work these issues out themselves.
Mediation can be an ideal way for the spouses to resolve any disputes. A mediator works with both spouses to try to find solutions to the disagreements and reach an agreement that is fair and mutually acceptable. Even if the spouses don’t want to try mediation, the judge can order it.
If the spouses have children together, the case may be referred to the Friend of the Court (FOC), an evaluator or case worker who interviews the spouses and the children, relatives, teachers, or doctors.
The FOC assists the court with custody, parenting time (visitation), and child support issues by investigating and issuing recommendations, offering mediation services, and ensuring parents obey court orders.
The judge considers the FOC’s reports and recommendations and may give them great weight in making determinations. However, the court does not have to agree with the FOC and may reach a different decision on some or all of the issues regarding the children. If the spouses already agree, they may opt-out of the FOC services.
Finalizing the Divorce
The waiting period begins after the filing – two months for couples without children and six months for those with children. After that, the couples are divorced. If the spouses do not agree on everything, however, the divorce may take much longer.
Michigan divorce courts always encourage the separating spouses to agree to joint custody unless it is not in the best interest of the child. Michigan state law requires child custody based on the best interests of the child principle. The best interests of a child include the emotional bond between the child and each of the parents, the parent's capacity to give the child both financial and emotional support, the moral aptitude of each parent, and the mental and physical well-being of each parent.
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