Divorces come in all different varieties. Many people hope to file for divorce quickly and inexpensively. When parties to a divorce involve lawyers and contest many issues, the costs of each lawyer can become extremely expensive.
There are situations where a divorce will be uncontested, allowing the parties to keep the costs low. This article summarizes the differences between contested and uncontested divorce in Michigan, the process for an uncontested divorce, when an uncontested divorce makes sense, and potential problems when filing uncontested divorce.
What is uncontested divorce in Michigan?
An uncontested divorce generally involves no issues to resolve because either the parties agree to all property division issues and child custody arrangements (if applicable) or because the defendant spouse fails to answer the complaint resulting in a default judgment.
Common issues may include the division of the house, cars, personal property like household furniture and other items, retirement assets, tax issues, division of debts, handling business interested, child custody and support, and possibly alimony.
If the parties cannot resolve all issues initially, then they can work to settle them prior to trial or else go to trial. Trials can be expensive, so parties have an incentive to avoid them. If a spouse does not answer the complaint, as described later, then the spouse who initiated the divorce filing can submit a default judgment for the court to approve and enter. This may occur when the other party does not have anything to demand or there are no minor children involved.
Uncontested Divorce Process in Michigan
How to file for an uncontested divorce in Michigan
Confirm You Satisfy the Residency Requirements
The divorce jurisdictional requirements must be followed including being a resident of Michigan for 180 days prior to filing and 10 days in the county where the complaint is filed. Out of state parties may file divorce in Michigan against an in-state resident.
Starting the Process
An uncontested divorce is initiated the same way as a contested divorce. The party requesting the divorce (the plaintiff) must file a complaint with the court. The complaint contains key information including names, information on the marriage, information related to any minor children, the type of request for relief and the grounds for divorce. Michigan is a no-fault divorce state, so there is no need to explain why the party is filing for divorce and the rules prohibit any explanation beyond the statutory explanation.
Filing Divorce Papers
The complaint is commonly referred to as the divorce papers. After filing the divorce papers, the plaintiff must serve the divorce papers on the other spouse (the defendant). If the defendant spouse cannot be located, the divorce process can be delayed but not prevented. If the defendant is successfully served, the service of process must be filed with the court clerk. The defendant then has time to file an answer to either contest the divorce papers. If no answer is filed, the court may enter a default judgment.
What to do if a defendant spouse responds uncontested after serving papers?
If the defendant responds to the answer, the divorce may be contested or uncontested. Normally the spouses would know in advance. Depending on the defendant’s responses, the parties could change their minds and contest any issues until the divorce agreement is final and on the record. It is common for uncontested cases to turn contested as the emotional toll of divorce takes effect.
Typical Michigan Divorce Checklist
File correct paperwork including complaint and any other necessary documents. A filing fee is generally required but may be waived in certain situations.
Serve with summons
The plaintiff must be prepared to serve the defendant with the divorce papers. If you hire a process server, or use someone you know to serve the divorce papers, failing to find the party may delay the court from entering a judgment of divorce. The plaintiff may not personally serve the papers. If the plaintiff cannot locate the defendant spouse, a judge will ask the plaintiff to make additional efforts including mailing the papers to the last known address and through publication.
There may be cases where a defendant successfully claims lack of notice that should result voiding the default judgment and allowing the defendant to litigate the divorce case, which would involve either property settlement or rights related to the parties' minor child or children.
Wait for answer
If the defendant answers the divorce papers, the court clerk will schedule pre-trial conferences. An answer does not mean that the case is automatically contested or will go to trial. Instead, the parties may reach an agreement and enter that agreement with the court for the divorce judgment.
Where the defendant is successfully served, but fails to file an answer, the plaintiff may ask the court to enter a default judgment against the defendant. The default judgment will likely grant the plaintiff's requests for relief, but still must be reasonable. A defendant may be able to overturn a default judgment if he or she acts quickly enough and can show cause regarding why an answer was not filed. A court is not required to grant the request to set aside the default judgment.
If no agreement, work out issues and put in a judgment. Otherwise, the case will move to a trial for the judge to determine the result. It is generally better for the parties to determine their own outcomes than to let a judge decide.
Regardless of the type of divorce case, a final hearing is necessary for the plaintiff to answer a few questions about the divorce to put the answers on the official record. This must be completed before the judge grants the divorce whether or not the divorce is contested.
Waiting period for an uncontested divorce
How long does it take?
If a case is truly uncontested and service of process is valid, a case without minor children can take approximately 60 days. For cases with minor children, there is a mandatory minimum of 180 days.
Average legal fee for uncontested divorce
How much does divorce cost in Michigan?
An average divorce in Michigan ranges from $10,000 to $12,000 or higher depending on the circumstances and number of unresolved issues. If the case goes to trial, hiring experts to provide opinions will increase the cost further. For uncontested divorces, the fees range from $500 to $3,000 by some estimates depending on the level of service requested.
Quick or cheap divorce?
A quick divorce in Michigan is limited to the minimum 60 day waiting period. This gives the parties time to process the range of emotions surrounding divorces and to fully understand their current and future circumstances. Where a default judgment is entered, the issues are effectively settled at the time of entry unless the defendant can successfully challenge the default.
There are many cheap options available to spouses thinking about filing for divorce. Depending on the amount of research and work a person wants to do, there are resources available to forgo the use of an attorney. It may generally be a wise idea to have an attorney work with you to understand your situation, ask questions to help you determine the best course of action, and then prepare and file all necessary documents. The service alone will save you time and stress, and let you focus on other aspects of divorce including maintaining your quality of work life and focus on beginning your life without your spouse and healing.
Using an attorney who charges a flat rate fee for unbundled or limited scope services that will achieve your goals is a smart way to limit the cost of your divorce to a reasonable fee without the risk of large, unpredictable hourly fees that leave you with an unexpected bill at the end of your divorce.
How to know if you need a lawyer in a do it yourself divorce?
Some people may be comfortable handling their own affairs including filing taxes, handling a probate estate and filing for divorce. Fully considering all aspects of divorce instead of rushing through may protect your rights.
Potential hidden problems
Possible issues that may not be apparent at the time of filing include possible tax issues, including historical joint filings or whether returns were actually filed and any balance due was actually paid, hidden property or undisclosed assets including retirement accounts, work accounts, and business accounts. While some people want to just get the divorce over with, it is wise to ensure that you receive a fair settlement and your right to your fair share of marital property.
How to convert your case
A lawyer can assist you with converting your case quickly and ensure that your divorce papers are drafted so that you do not lose rights by omitting relevant information or requests.
Can you automatically file uncontested if long-term separation?
If you have been separated for a long time from your spouse, but not officially divorced, you must still complete the divorce process. It may be more likely that your spouse will agree to your demands or to just keep everything separate, but you still must draft divorce papers and a judgment that reflects this.
Finally, some people focus on assets and forget about marital debts. If you have debts in your own name that were incurred during the marriage, you should request that these be split. Similarly, if your spouse incurred large debts in a joint account, but they do not relate to you or they were incurred to purchase assets that the spouse wants to keep, having assistance in splitting the debt will be wise to avoid being the sole debtor. It may also be helpful to have an attorney ensure that you are protected if your spouse owes you money or property and he or she immediately files bankruptcy after the judgment of divorce is entered.
Contact Detroit Divorce Attorney Andrew Steiger for Michigan Uncontested Divorce Questions
If you are interested in learning more about unbundled legal services or limited scope representation related to filing for a Michigan uncontested divorce, contact Detroit attorney Andrew Steiger for a free consultation. Limited scope representation fees are often fixed or can be limited to a fixed range based on hourly rates. Unbundled legal services are not right for every situation, but understanding the process of divorce can help you determine if you may qualify and keep the cost of your divorce affordable without sacrificing quality guidance throughout the process.