Filing a Complaint for Divorce in Michigan starts a months-long litigation process that includes exchanges of information, motions, mediations, informal negotiations, and ultimately the divorce trial. Knowing this process can help you make better decisions along the way as you move toward a possible settlement.
Getting a divorce in Michigan can take anywhere from 60 days to more than 1 year, and the process includes many steps along the way.
First, one spouse must file for divorce. Unless you and your spouse plan to use Michigan’s Uncontested Divorce option, one spouse will be the plaintiff and the other the defendant (gender doesn’t matter). The Plaintiff’s attorney will prepare several documents that are needed to start the case, including:
Depending on your situation, your attorney may recommend filing several motions right away. These initial motions set the rules for both parties while the divorce case moves forward and can cover anything from:
The initial divorce filing packet must be served on the defendant spouse. This can happen informally if they agree to sign an Acknowledgment of Service. If not, a process server will find them, hand them the papers, and then sign an Affidavit of Service.
The defendant spouse then has 21 to 28 days to file an Answer to the Complaint. The Answer signals to the court that the defendant will be actively involved in the case. If more than 28 days pass and your spouse has not formally responded, your attorney can request a Default be entered against them. This allows the case to move forward.
In divorces with children, most counties have an initial meeting with a member of the Friend of the Court (FOC) to allow you and your spouse to understand the FOC services available and attend a short class about co-parenting.
If either spouse filed temporary motions, they will be heard within the first few weeks of the case. Custody, parenting time, and support motions are often referred to the FOC for investigation and recommendations. If, after the hearing before the investigator or referee, you are unhappy with the FOC’s recommendation, you may file a request for review by the judge.
Next comes discovery. This is an information-gathering process where your attorney will send out questions, requests for documents, and subpoenas to learn more about your case. These can be directed at your spouse or third parties (like banks or your children’s schools). Cooperating with your spouse’s requests for discovery helps keep divorce costs down and speeds up your divorce trial process. If either side refuses to answer discovery requests, the requesting attorney can file a motion to ask the court to compel them to provide answers.
Nearly every Michigan divorce case is sent to mediation. This is an opportunity for both sides to sit down with a neutral facilitator, and attempt to resolve the case. Mediation can address custody, post-judgment support, and property distribution. Settlement doesn’t have to happen at the mediation table, though. Your attorney can help you resolve part or all of your divorce case through settlement negotiations.
If you and your spouse are able to resolve all the outstanding issues, you won’t need to go through the time and expense of a divorce trial. Instead, the plaintiff will appear before the judge in a short hearing where they will answer questions to establish the grounds for divorce. If everyone has signed a consent judgment of divorce ahead of that hearing, the judge will sign that divorce judgment and the case will be over.
If negotiations fail and you are unable to settle, your case will be set for a divorce trial. This is your chance to put your case before the judge (there are no jury trials for divorce), and argue that your resolution is what is equitable and in your children’s best interests.
Most divorce trials center on the testimony of both spouses. You should work with your attorney ahead of the divorce trial to prepare your testimony, getting dates straight, and anticipating tough questions from the other attorney.
Less than five percent of all divorce cases in Michigan go to trial. Most settle along the way. But knowing whether to settle depends on your personal priorities, your spouse’s personality and behavior, and whether there are complicated issues that need a judge’s legal opinion.
Settlement is almost always the right choice for Michigan families. You know your situation better than any judge ever will. Often a divorce trial results in an order that neither party is truly happy with. Settlement allows you to craft a resolution that meets your needs and fits your schedule. You can also agree to things -- like support of your adult children -- that a court cannot order on its own.
However, you should never feel pressured to settle just because it is easier. Certain types of cases need a judge to make a decision. You may need to go to trial if:
After the trial is concluded, the judge will issue an opinion, either on the record or in writing. Then the plaintiff’s attorney will write a judgment of divorce that documents that opinion and divides up the parties’ property according to what the judge said. Once that order is signed, you are divorced.
A divorce trial is never easy, and reaching a fair settlement often requires the help of an experienced divorce attorney. Schedule a consultation to discuss your specific situation and begin the divorce process for you and your family.