Divorce laws vary from state to state, but most follow a similar pattern. One spouse must initiate the divorce, the other should respond, then they can hash out the details of their divorce either between them or with the assistance of their attorneys. Michigan’s laws don’t deviate from this, but the state does add an additional step if you have children.
Complaint for Divorce
The filing of a complaint for divorce is necessary to begin the process. In Michigan, the family division of each county’s circuit court presides over divorce cases. After one spouse files a complaint and serves it on the other, he has less than a month to respond in writing by filing an answer to the complaint. You need to have lived in Michigan for the last six months and file in the county you or your spouse has lived in for the previous ten days.
The filing of a complaint and answer opens the door for spouses to resolve some issues on a “pendente lite” basis, or until the divorce is final. Michigan calls these orders “interim orders.” They’re generally necessary to deal with situations that can’t languish for the amount of time necessary to get through the entire divorce process, such as child support, visitation and the payment of household bills. Spouses can agree how to deal with these issues and submit a stipulated order to the court for a judge’s signature. If you can’t agree, either you or your spouse must file a notice of motion, asking a judge to decide the issues for you.
If you have children, Michigan requires you to attend a meeting with the Friend of the Court while your divorce is pending. The Friend of the Court is a division of the court staffed by investigators who make sure both parents are on the same page with issues regarding custody, visitation and child support. If you are, this step can be as simple as a single meeting with the investigator. If you’re not, you’ll have to continue meeting with him until you’ve ironed things out. The investigator will submit a report and recommendation to the court when you complete this phase of the process.
While you’re meeting with the Friend of the Court, you or your attorneys should also be exchanging discovery. This involves swapping copies of financial documentation and other relevant material and sometimes written answers to questions called interrogatories. Your attorneys might also want to question each of you verbally under oath, a process known as depositions. The discovery phase of a divorce unearths and proves the facts of your marriage so you can reach a fair agreement between you as to how to end it.
Settlement or Trial
When discovery is complete and you’ve finished with the Friend of the Court,, if you have children, you can finalize your divorce. If you have children, you must wait six months after your spouse receives your complaint; otherwise the waiting period is only two months. You can negotiate a settlement during this time. If you can reach one, you can file a judgment of divorce with the court itemizing all the details you've agreed on, such as how to deal with custody, support and property division. The spouse who filed the divorce complaint must then appear briefly in court at what Michigan calls a “pro con” hearing to give a statement that the grounds she filed on are legitimate. If you can’t reach a settlement, you or your attorneys will notify the court, and the court will set a date for a trial. In Michigan, divorce trials are heard only by judges; there are no juries.