Michigan Divorce Lawyer Who Will Fight to Protect Your Rights
Whether your divorce is contested or uncontested, I will help you during this difficult time and work hard to protect your rights including child custody, property settlements or spousal support.
Let Me Help Protect Your Rights in a Family Law Case
Cost effective divorce
Effective communication and negotiation to limit unnecessary litigation when possible
Fair or favorable property settlements
Thoughtful child custody arrangements
Careful planning for alimony or spousal support when possible
Careful consideration of impact on your business interests
Review of tax current and future tax impacts of property division
Payment plans and credit cards accepted, along with flexible retainers
Understand Your Michigan Divorce Options Before Filing For Divorce
Divorce is one of the most stressful events in a person's life.
Effective legal representation requires understanding and protecting your rights while also understanding that if children are involved, high conflict litigation can have very harmful long-term consequences on the parties involved.
Don't let an angry spouse intimidate you or threaten false consequences to make you settle for less than you deserve.
Attorney Andrew Steiger can help you understand your rights, dispel common myths, and confidently guide you through the legal process.
Common Myths in Michigan Divorce Law
Property must be split 50/50
Child custody always goes to the mother
Child support is limited to a formula
Spousal support is only available if one spouse does not work
A parent can relocate the children after the divorce without the other parent's consent
All property must be divided
Truths About Michigan Divorce Law
Property is subject to equitable division
Child custody is based on the best interests of the child
Child support can be determined by factors outside a formula
Spousal support is handled on a case by case basis
Relocation may be limited by the Michigan 100-mile Rule
Marital property must be divided; separate property is generally not subject to division unless equity requires it
Divorce in Michigan
How to File for Divorce in Michigan
A divorce is initiated in Michigan by filing a complaint for divorce in the county circuit court where one of the parties resides. Cases differ depending on if there are minor children or not. A party can seek a separation instead of divorce.
After the complaint is filed, the plaintiff serves the defendant, who then has a short period of time to respond. In a contested case, the defendant files an answer to the complaint and the court must then determine the parties rights at trial if the parties do not settle their differences before trial.
Divorce can involve discovery of assets and other information from the other party, motions related to property, child custody, support, and may require many hearings.
Michigan No Fault Divorce
Michigan is a no fault divorce state. This means that a spouse who files for divorce does not have to prove any wrong doing on the part of the other spouse, or anything at all. The plaintiff spouse must simply state that there are irreconcilable differences without any need to go into the details.
This does not mean, however, that fault plays no role in a divorce. A party may attempt to establish fault to advance a claim for spousal support or child support, and may attempt to show a pattern of bad behavior that may qualify as "fault" to impact a judge's decision regarding child custody.
Fault is one of many factors to be considered and is not given a disproportionate amount of weight relative to other factors.
Michigan Uncontested Divorce
Many spouses hope to file an uncontested divorce. This typically involves one of two situations: (1) the parties can agree on all issues that must be resolved, or (2) the defendant does not or chooses not to timely respond to the complaint and a court enters a default judgment.
A default judgment is typically whatever the plaintiff wants, subject to court approval.
Parties may choose to file a "do it yourself" divorce when all issues are agreed to or will not be challenged. The court then can enter that agreement, but it will be up to the parties to enforce it.
In either case, all required documents must be prepared and filed with the court.
Customized Payment Options for Your Michigan Divorce
The Law Office of Andrew M. Steiger, PLLC offers a variety of options to help you successfully file for divorce without paying excessive fees:
flat fee options for uncontested divorce
payment plans and credit cards welcome
limited scope representation for qualifying cases (learn more)
hourly rates for complex cases that may require litigation
How to File for Divorce in Michigan
Filing for divorce in Michigan generally begins with the filing of a complaint with the circuit court in the county where the plaintiff resides. The complaint includes statutorily required information about both the plaintiff and defendant, along with other information and a request for certain types of relief. The plaintiff is then required to serve the complaint and summons on the defendant and file this service with the court. From there, the court will schedule conferences with the parties to attempt to resolve issues to see if a settlement is possible, and if not, prepare for trial. During this period, the parties are allowed to request information from each other to help resolve any disputes. The parties may also use the Friend of the Court to help resolve issues as well as mediation.
If the parties cannot reach an agreement regarding either division of property and debts or child custody, then the court will schedule a trial to resolve the remaining issues. Trial is generally very stressful and expensive, and the court will generally provide up to one year for the parties to resolve issues to avoid trial.
The divorce ends with a judgment of divorce that incorporates a settlement agreed to by the parties or the terms of the divorce based on the outcome of the trial. If one of the parties does not agree with the judge's ruling, that party may file a motion for reconsideration or appeal the ruling to the Michigan appellate court. Parties must consider many factors, including preserving rights for appeal and modification. Attorneys help by providing advice on how best to proceed to achieve a client's goals and preserving rights if a case goes to trial.
Property Settlements in a Michigan Divorce
The assets of the marriage are divided as part of the divorce judgment. Many considerations go into determining the property settlement and Michigan divorce law requires an equitable division of the marital estate. Many people assume the property is divided equally or 50/50, but that is more of a starting point and the parties or the judge can adjust the ratio depending on the facts and circumstances of the marriage. Property settlements are not intended to be used as a form of punishment for one party's bad acts, but it may be a factor in the overall review of what is equitable or fair.
Impact of Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement
Under Michigan divorce law, prenuptial or postnuptial agreements may be valid and upheld, assuming there is adequate consideration, representation and no duress or coercion present when the agreement was signed. A prenup may be used to protect one spouse's interest a closely held or family business, or if the marriage is a second marriage and there may be child from a prior marriage that need to be protected.
Marital versus Separate Property
Property is generally separated into two categories - marital and separate property. Marital property generally includes property that is acquired or accumulated during the marriage by either of the spouses. This could also include increases in the value of investment properties, 401(k) plan assets, a marital home, cars, jewelry, etc. Exclusions from marital property are generally gifted property to one of the spouses, inherited property or passive appreciation of separate property. Separate property is property acquired outside or before the marriage and is not subject to division. While determining what property is separate and marital is very important as a starting point for property division, this determination is not conclusive as to how a court will ultimately divide property. Other factors including the needs of a spouse may come into play.
The relevant period of time is also an important consideration for marital versus separate property. The courts have established that property acquired during the marriage is marital and property acquired during periods of cohabitation or dating, or otherwise when the parties are not actually legally married, is not marital property. If parties are cohabitating for a long period of time prior to marriage, other property law rules may be applied to determine ownership. These laws may be less established and deny a party of ownership rights in property acquired by the other party when a couple shares or splits expenses or other costs. There are also important considerations when a marriage is short and the parties attempt to reclaim what they believe they brought into the marriage.
Types of Property and Issues of Valuation
Many property categories exist for purposes of dividing the marital estate, and raise issues of valuation and methods of division. The parties may own real estate, cars, jewelry, engagement rings, investments, retirement accounts, pensions, life insurance policies, business interests, etc. Valuing the property may go along way to resolving a property dispute when certain types of property are involved. These usually include a small business interest that is difficult to value, but may be extremely valuable. Other valuation problems may exist when real estate is involved and the property either cannot be valued easily without putting the asset up for sale. For retirement accounts, whether the future income will be taxable and at what rate will impact the present value of those assets. Ensuring that taxes and appraisal issues are properly considered is important to ensuring that a party gets the value it is seeking in the property settlement.
Other important issues for property settlements include the impact of debt, whether joint or individual, on the value of a property. A property settlement must take care to either ensure that the debts are paid as part of a settlement or that the party remaining liable for the debt to creditors will have a means to pay the debt. Bankruptcy considerations are discussed below. For parties to an amicable divorce that are facing financial challenges, planning for bankruptcy as part of a divorce may be advantageous if done properly.
Spousal Support in a Michigan Divorce
Michigan law provides a spouse to request spousal support in cases there is a large disparity in incomes or a long marriage where one spouse is financially dependent on the other spouse.
Spousal Support in Michigan
Spousal support is not a guaranteed right. Michigan courts differentiate between support that helps maintain the standard of living during the marriage until retirement and support that helps a spouse transition to a new life by providing educational opportunities or other transitional assistance for employment purposes.
Michigan Spousal Support Factors
There is a fourteen factor test, and generally the length of the marriage and the age of the parties are key considerations for determining whether spousal support if granted will be long-term or rehabilitative.
How is Spousal Support Calculated in Michigan?
Due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, alimony or spousal support payments are no longer deductible by the payor and includible in taxable income by the recipient payee. As a result, traditional spousal support payments are no longer as desirable or beneficial from the payor's perspective when settling property of the marriage and ensuring that each spouse is taken care of after the dissolution of the marriage.
Another complicating factor is the existence of a valid prenuptial agreement. Prenups are an accepted practice in Michigan, subject to interpretation and fairness considerations. The validity of a prenuptial agreement is subject to principles of duress and fair bargaining. If both parties are represented by attorneys at the time the prenup is signed and there is a full disclosure of assets, then a prenup is likely to be accepted and enforceable at the time of divorce unless it is unconscionable or lopsided. It is essential that parties take into account changes in circumstances and definitions of key terms that a court will analysis in a divorce, including separate and marital property, which ultimately impact how a court interprets a prenuptial agreement.
Child Custody Law in Michigan
Michigan law generally provides that both parents may be involved in a child's life and have time with the child. The two different types of custody are legal and physical custody. A parent may share joint legal or physical custody with the other parent or have sole joint or physical custody. Whether custody is joint or sole has important implications for which parent may decide important issues or life events for a child and where a parent may live.
Having sole physical custody does not mean that the other parent cannot see the child, but that parent may be awarded parenting time subject to a schedule for seeing the child. Child custody arrangements may be modified after time, but depending on the reason may require overcoming a high burden of proof regarding the underlying reason why one parent deserves more or less time with the child.
Determining child custody requires reviewing what is in the child's best interest. Michigan law provides a statutory set of factors that the court must review. These "best interest" factors are reviewed and given different weights by the court depending on the facts and circumstances, but a parent should be prepared to present their best case for each factor to preserve their rights. It is best for a parent to maximize or preserve their rights rather than attempt to modify their rights in the future.
Michigan Child Support
Child support in Michigan may be granted in a variety of cases, in addition to a divorce that involves minor children. A parent may seek child support from another parent in cases where the parents are unmarried. Child support may be granted in cases involving establishing paternity and emancipation of a child. After the need for child support has been established, the amount must be calculated.
Michigan Child Support Formula
Michigan child support is subject to a state formula that is based on the needs of the child and the resources of the parents. Other factors include the number of children requiring support and the overnight time spent with each parent. Child support also takes into account the healthcare needs of the child and the cost of daycare. The Michigan Child Support Formula can be complicated, and given the consequences of establishing the ongoing payment amount, great care should be taken to confirm the accuracy of the calculation.
Modification of Michigan Child Support
After a judgment for child support has been issued, a party may seek to modify the child support amount. This may occur as circumstances change, including a change in income by a party, health care coverage changes, changes in needs for daycare, specific needs of a child, etc. A party may petition the court to modify the child support order at any time and the parties may not prevent modification in a judgment of divorce or settlement.
Retroactive Modification of Michigan Child Support
A parent who desires to modify child support payments should not wait to petition the court. A child support order that is not a temporary or ex parte order generally cannot be retroactively cancelled or reduced. A party that loses a job or has a reduction in income should petition the court to avoid a large balance that will not be paid. Bankruptcy cannot discharge or eliminate past child support payment or balances, so a party should act immediately if a change in circumstances results in an inability to pay child support payments with no hope of catching up later. An exception exists if the debt is owed to the state of Michigan, which may or may not occur depending on the circumstances of the parties.
Related Michigan Family Law Considerations
Bankruptcy Issues and Family Law
Changes in family structure impact other areas of client's lives. Divorce may impact both parties' finances, causing hardship for one or both individuals leading to bankruptcy. Deteriorating finances are a leading cause of divorce and generally become worse after divorce. A bankruptcy after a divorce judgment is entered may harm the former spouse of the bankruptcy petitioner, but also may benefit a bankruptcy petitioner if there is non-dischargeable debt related to the divorce that squeezes out other unsecured creditors, but maintains the domestic support obligation. In other cases, property settlements may be at risk of discharge in a bankruptcy.
Tax Issues and Family Law
Divorce also requires a review of tax considerations and should be covered in detail in a judgment to maintain each parties' rights and clarify filing obligations. For example, the tax issues related to divorce changed significantly in 2018, involving the elimination of a deduction for alimony payments and inclusion of alimony in gross income for the recipient. Other issues related to increased tax credits and dependents have changed and require a careful analysis to increase the net cash flow of the parties after divorce while at the same time ensuring enforcement of a party's expected interest in the judgment. Using a Detroit divorce attorney who is very competent when it comes to tax issues, including Michigan and federal income tax problems, will help you draft an enforceable divorce judgment and protect your interests in tax credits and deductions.
Do It Yourself Divorce in Michigan?
Divorce law in Michigan can be complex and lawyers can be expensive depending on who you hire. Many parties to divorce consider representing themselves. In some cases, this may make sense if both parties agree to the divorce and are interested in essentially walking away without conflict over property or are willing to have highly flexible, equal parenting time without child support payments. Do it your self divorce filers may also have very short marriages that both parties realize was not a good idea.
Even in these situations, hiring a lawyer to prepare the paperwork and fully advise a client makes sense. A divorce has long-lasting consequences that should be taken seriously at the time of filing to avoid issues that may arise when a party wants or needs to revisit a particular aspect of the divorce judgment. While parties may be hypersensitive to the perceived high costs of divorce lawyers, lawyers now are able to provide limited scope representation to clients including fixed fee pricing. These options make sense when a lawyer's role is limited to drafting the legal documents and preparing for trial is not an issue.
Detroit Family Lawyer Free Consultation
If you are planning on filing for divorce in Michigan, you need a competent Michigan attorney who will protect your rights and counsel you through the process. Contact Detroit family law attorney Andrew Steiger at Steiger Law Office to represent you. He will provide you with an overview of the divorce process and your options during a free consultation. He can also help you if you have minor children and you will be seeking child custody and support. Contact him at (248) 259-6367 or email at Andrew.Steiger@steigerlawoffice.com.