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Divorce in Michigan: Frequently Asked Questions About Michigan Divorce Laws

Michigan attorney Andrew Steiger answers common Michigan divorce questions below about divorce laws and the divorce process in Michigan.

Michigan Divorce FAQs

What are Michigan's divorce laws?


The starting point to get divorced in Michigan is satisfying the jurisdiction requirement. Either spouse must live in Michigan for at least six months (183 days) prior to filing for the divorce. The test is one of residency, so a party is not required to be physically present on all 183 days. In addition, a spouse must live in the county where the divorce is filed for at least 10 days prior to filing. A spouse can live out of state and still be subject to divorce proceedings in Michigan. It is possible that child custody or child support may not be completed in rare cases where the non-Michigan spouse and child have no contacts to Michigan. A Michigan court that has jurisdiction will grant a divorce. Michigan is a no-fault divorce state meaning fault is not a requirement to successfully file for divorce. Spouses do not have to live separately to file for divorce or prove that there is a breakdown in the marriage. The only requirement is that a spouse will state that there has been a breakdown in the marriage that cannot be repaired. No fault must be shown, although in a contested divorce case, the judge can take fault into account under certain circumstances related to property or child custody.




Is Michigan a no-fault divorce state?


Michigan is a no-fault divorce state. A party filing for divorce is not required to prove any kind of fault to proceed with the divorce. The filing party must simply state that the marriage is beyond repair and cannot be preserved. Fault is a factor when considering property division, but is just one of many factors and courts may be reluctant to give fault much weight unless fault relates to a specific asset or impacted the behavior of a party to that party's detriment.




How Can I File for Divorce in Michigan?


A common question is how to get a divorce in Michigan. The spouse filing for divorce begins a divorce by filing a complaint with the circuit court that has jurisdiction to hear the case. Typically this is located in the county where that spouse lives. The spouse then serves the complaint and summons on the defendant spouse. The filing spouse then returns the summons and complaint back to the court as proof the defendant was served and the defendant must file an answer or be subject to a default judgment. Filing in divorce in Michigan requires additional documents to be filed with the court, including when there are minor children involved. In that case, the court will have to determine child custody and support.




Is Michigan a community property state or equitable division state?


Property division in Michigan is subject to equitable division. This means that a court will consider dividing property based on what is fair under the circumstances. The court is required to take a number of factors into account when deciding how to allocate property. There is no rigid formula or requirement to split property 50/50. In many cases, property may be divided evenly based on value, but parties may disagree on who gets what property.




Can I Get a Legal Separation Instead of Divorce?


A legal separation is not permitted under Michigan family law. Michigan law does permit what is called "separate maintenance" that is similar to divorce in that property may be divided, spousal support may be granted, etc., but there is no official judgment of divorce. The parties are still considered legally married. This route is generally taken for religious purposes. It is important to understand that while one party may file for separate maintenance to maintain the legal marriage, the responding party may move to conver the case to a divorce proceeding, in which case the divorce proceeding would advance.




What are the Grounds for Annulment in Michigan?


Filing for an annulment in Michigan is difficult and fairly uncommon. The standards for annulment are high and difficult to satisfy. A person generally seeks an annulment to treat the marriage as having never existed or void from the beginning. This is not the same as a divorce. The statutory bases for an annulment includes bigamy, relatives who are too closely related, or a person who is unable to marry due to being under age. In other cases that are more common, a spouse may have married because of duress or force, and also fraud. Fraud may be difficult to prove and usually must be raised fairly soon after entering the marriage. Cases may relate to immigration fraud.




Where is a Divorce Complaint Filed in Michigan?


A divorce complaint is filed with the circuit court clerk's office where one of the party's has lived for at least 10 days prior to filing. Depending on the county, a summons may be required to be prepared and filed at the same time. The court fee is typically $175 for divorce without minor children and $255 for divorce with minor children. The friend of the court may need to be notified as well. If a county requires e-filing documents, then the filer or attorney must have a registered e-filing account.




Does it Matter Who Files First?


Generally it does not matter which spouse files for divorce first. Who files first may impact where the divorce action is filed if the spouses live in different counties. The timing of filing may also affect if a spouse can relocate if minor children are involved and subject to a custody determination.




Does Michigan Recognize Common Law Marriage?


Michigan does not recognize new common law marriages, but will respect a common law marriage effected in Michigan before January 1, 1957. If a couple claiming a valid common law marriage entered into that marriage in another state that does recognize common law marriage as legal, then Michigan will respect that common law marriage.




How Is Michigan Child Support Calculated?


Michigan uses a formula to calculate child support. This is a starting point and the parties may deviate from the formula either by agreement or by showing a need. Parties cannot eliminate child support obligations or agree to reduce child support without court approval, so parties must be able to prove that the child or children will be adequately taken care of in cases where child support does not follow the formula. In those cases, only an increase in support is likely. Child support also factors the custody schedule to use overnights of the children to calculate who pays and the amount.




What Does the Michigan Child Support Formula Use to Calculate Payments?


The Michigan child support formula takes income, deductions, healthcare expenses and childcare costs into account, as well as overnights to calculate the payment amounts. Taxes are one of the big deductions, and the handbook includes others. Income tends to be broad and includes wages, business income, investment income, social security, etc. and the handbook is fairly comprehensive when understanding what should be included in the calculation.




How Much Does It Cost to Get a Divorce in Michigan?


The cost of a divorce can vary widely depending on how contested the divorce is, whether there are minor children, the attorney hourly rates, and how much property must be divided. One of the biggest factors is the personality and attitudes of the two spouses. Some of the most expensive divorces involve parties who argue over everything, including trivial things, or are just trying to be spiteful towards their spouse. For amicable cases, the cost should be fairly low. An uncontested case may be completed for as low as $400, while contested cases can be completed for $3,000 to $5,000, or more depending on the issues and demeanor of the parties.




Can I File for Divorce Myself?


It is possible to file yourself and many people attempt to start the process without a lawyer due to potential high costs or requests for large up front retainers. In other cases, one spouse retains a lawyer to get an edge in the litigation, pressuring the other spouse to retain a lawyer. With both spouses represented, the parties seek to win at all costs, resulting in huge legal fees. If a trial is inevitable, a lawyer can typically prepare a better case to win on key issues.




Am I Permitted to Move After I File For Divorce in Michigan?


Once a case is started in Michigan, it is possible for one of the spouses to move to a new location. The case will remain in the county where filed unless there is a jurisdictional mistake or challenge that succeeds. In cases where minor children are involved, court approval is generally required if a party seeks to move after the case is filed. Care should also be taken around understanding the concept of a "custodial environment" when minor children are invovled.




Can a Spouse Stop the Divorce Action?


No, a spouse cannot stop you from filing for divorce if you believe there has been a breakdown in the marriage. A judge will not require you to prove that there has been a breakdown in the marriage, so the case will proceed. It is possible that mediation or counseling can be requested, but ultimately a spouse cannot prevent the other spouse from completing the divorce filing.




How Long Does a Divorce Take in Michigan?


A divorce can take up to a year or sometimes more in Michigan. Courts have guidelines to process divorce cases. The minimum time to complete a divorce without children is 60 days. The minimum time to complete a Michigan divorce with minor children is 6 months. A waiver of the minimum time may be requested for good cause. In contested cases, if a settlment cannot be reached then a trial is typically schedule around the one year mark.




How Much Does it Cost to File for a Michigan Divorce?


The filing fee depends on whether a case involves minor children or not. For cases without minor children, the filing fee paid to the court is $175. For cases with minor children, the filing fee is typically $255. The filing fee may be waived in certain cases, including when the filing spouse or children receive government assistance. There may be other fees, including fees to hear motions. A spouse may ask the court to assess the filing fees or attorney costs on the other spouse.




Are Divorce Records a Public Document in Michigan?


The short answer is yes. It is possible for a judgment of divorce to incorporate an agreement of the parties that is not filed with the court, and therefore remains private. Other documents required as part of the divorce action are also not public. In addition, certain information like social security numbers are not made public.




What If Paternity is Disputed?


If there is a dispute of paternity in a divorce, or if a party fears that a child may not be a biological child, then a paternity suit may be brought in a divorce action. If not brought timely or disputed as part of the divorce action, a party may lose the right to dispute the paternity in the future.