How to Avoid Divorce Court

rings with judge on book on table - avoid divorce court concept

Court battles can be expensive and stressful. In the end, hardly anyone gets everything they hoped for from the judge in a divorce. Many couples getting divorced in Michigan today want to do so in a way that is peaceful, and simpler than the divorces they may have lived through in the past. This raises the question of how to avoid divorce court, and what you can do to reduce conflict and get your case resolved more quickly and with less wear and tear on your family.

Can You Get Divorced Without Going to Court in Michigan?

There is no way to avoid divorce court entirely and still end your marriage because a judge is required to make a finding on the record that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed, and there remains no reasonable likelihood of reconciliation. So in Michigan, only a family court judge has the legal authority to terminate a legal marriage. But that doesn’t mean you have to go through a long, expensive divorce trial. There are many options available to avoid going to court for divorce. In 2021, just over 1% of divorces ended in trial while 75% were uncontested, defaulted, or settled. When both parties are committed to reducing conflict and resolving their issues out of court, you may only need a single, short hearing to get your judgment of divorce signed and your marriage dissolved.

How to Avoid Divorce Court

Avoiding divorce court depends on being willing to resolve your issues out of court and whether it is safe for you to do so. Cases involving domestic violence require particularly careful thought about the appropriate dispute resolution mechanism, so be open and honest with your lawyer about any concerns you have regarding physical and/or emotional coercion or control. This doesn’t mean you and your spouse will stay together. It means that you both value a peaceful resolution more than getting a judge to tell you who is right and who is wrong (often, the judge will disagree with both of you!). If you want to avoid divorce court, you need to be willing to give as well as take, and negotiate openly and honestly with your spouse, with or without the help of an attorney.

Divorce Options that Avoid Going to Court (More Than Once)

There are several divorce options that you can choose to minimize litigation expenses and emotional strain by keeping you out of the courtroom. These “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) options generally rely on a qualified, disinterested, neutral third party, who helps the parties work through outstanding issues and find a resolution that works for their family. Some of the most common divorce processing options are:

Uncontested Divorce

If you and your spouse have already resolved all your issues, you may be able to avoid divorce court almost entirely by filing a joint petition for an uncontested divorce. You must have a signed, proposed judgment that resolves all your issues ready to go at the time the case is filed. Often, families who use this process may hire an attorney (who is ethically bound to represent only one party) to draft the documents and make sure everything gets filed correctly. Assuming the paperwork is correct, the judgment can be entered after one easy court hearing.

Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative law is a nearly ten-year-old process in Michigan (older in some other states) that legally prohibits litigation of your divorce issues except in the event of a bona fide emergency. This is an opt-in process that only works if both parties retain Collaboratively-trained attorneys and legally commit to avoiding litigation. In Collaborative Law, each party hires their own attorney and signs a Collaborative Participation Agreement, promising to reach a settlement without going to court. Failure to do so results in the parties having to terminate the Collaborative process, retain new counsel, and use no information obtained during the Collaborative sessions in the subsequent litigation. In Collaborative Law, the parties must agree to engage in full disclosure of information that remains confidential after the process is terminated, and remain respectful of each other throughout the process. The parties may also hire a divorce coach or other Collaborative specialist such as child development experts, financial planners, therapists, or accountants to facilitate the resolution of issues during meetings between the parties and their attorneys. Once the Collaborative process is complete, the parties file a joint petition for entry of an uncontested divorce judgment.


You can still avoid divorce court even after one party has filed a Complaint for Divorce. Some Michigan divorce actions are resolved through negotiations – back-and-forth discussions, usually through attorneys, designed to reach an agreement. You can negotiate any or all the terms of your divorce. Even if you do need to litigate one issue – such as custody – you can still reach a settlement on other issues, and avoid the time and expense of taking everything to trial.


In mediation, a neutral third party facilitator helps the parties identify areas where they agree and don’t agree. The mediator then helps the parties discuss their differences with the goal of reaching a mutually satisfactory settlement. Although a mediator can give the parties their opinions on issues, those opinions are not binding on the parties. A mediator can work directly with the couple (often before any divorce paperwork is filed), or after litigation has started with the help of attorneys. When mediation is successful, either the mediator or the attorneys will write up a settlement agreement, which will be converted into a Judgment of Divorce to be signed by the judge. Many judges order parties to mediation, and in some counties, mediation of some issues is available free through the Friend of the Court. Mediation is by far the most common way of resolving divorce matters in southeast Michigan.


Arbitration also involves a qualified neutral third party, but in this process, they make decisions that are binding on the parties. A mediator guides the parties to a resolution, while an arbitrator hears all sides of the dispute, reviews the evidence, and then issues a final, binding decision. Before signing an arbitration agreement, it is important to discuss the limits of the process with your divorce attorney and review the statutorily-required warnings around arbitration. You will be required to sign off on those warnings before arbitrating a case. After an arbitrator reaches a decision, it cannot be reversed or changed by the family court judge, except in limited circumstances. While it can be a useful tool to avoid going to court for divorce, especially when time is of the essence and arbitration can be completed faster than getting a decision from a judge, it should be used thoughtfully, and with the guidance of a divorce attorney experienced in using the process. Arbitration is also often helpful if the parties have a complicated issue they are worried their judge may not understand as well as a particular arbitrator chosen by both attorneys.


That said, not every family can avoid going to court. Some high-conflict cases need the structure of litigation to make certain that everyone’s rights and interests are protected. In other cases, temporary motions and pre-trial litigation may be needed to establish or maintain the status quo or restrain a party from engaging in nefarious behavior while you work toward resolution. Before deciding between divorce processes, be sure to discuss your particular circumstances with an experienced divorce attorney. Otherwise, you could be giving up more rights than you know.

Contact a Skilled Divorce Attorney

At NSSSB, our Ann Arbor divorce attorneys know how to make the most of all the various divorce processes and when possible, help you avoid unnecessary trips to the courthouse. By pioneering dispute resolution methods such as Collaborative Law and mediation, we’ve earned a reputation for helping couples reach settlements amicably, with less cost and emotional upset. And, while litigation of family matters is rare in today’s courts, if your case requires it, our attorneys will represent you zealously with maximum professionalism and civility. Click here to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys today.