The course in which spouses pursue divorce can make a difference in the outcome. There are many decisions involved in ending a marriage, and how those actions are carried out can determine future goals and life planning.
Ending A Marriage In Michigan
Child Custody Issues
Property Division In Divorce
- ADR Available: Yes
- Fault or No Fault: No Fault
- Parenting Plan Required: No
- Property Distribution: Equitable
Grounds For Divorce
Michigan is a no-fault divorce state. This means it is not necessary to prove a spouse’s behavior is the reason for the demise of the partnership. Couples that file for a dissolution of marriage must inform the court the marriage is past the point of repair. Officially, if ending the marriage, a couple is citing “irretrievable breakdown.”
Divorce Waiting Period
In the state of Michigan if there are children involved, a divorce may not be granted in less than six months. The residency requirement is in place for the person filing for the divorce; he or she needs to have been a resident for a minimum of 180 days. When children are not involved, a divorce is possible in 60 days.
There are three ways to end a marriage in the state of Michigan, including uncontested divorce, annulment and a separate maintenance action. Choosing one over the others will depend on the goals of you and a spouse.
In an uncontested divorce, the spouses involved agree to all the issues surrounding child support, visitation, marital property and alimony, among other areas. If a spouse contests a point within any of the issues, it might be possible to resolve without a trial; however, in some cases, going to court could be necessary to finalize the divorce.
In some states, the court order to end the marriage is called a legal separation. In Michigan, being legally separated is officially called a separate maintenance action. Spouses will deal with the issues of custody, child support, alimony and division of property, just like in a divorce; however, they will remain married. Some of the reasons to pursue a marital separation instead of divorce might be for financial or religious purposes.
In some instances, this process might be a way for couples to reconcile the marriage and have separate households in order to accomplish this goal.
Annulments are for very specific situations and require showing the court proof in order to be granted. The court treats an annulled marriage as though it never legally occurred. There is a distinction between marriages that are “void” and those that are “voidable.” In the case of void marriages, the union was never legal from the start – such as if a spouse was already married when entering into the partnership.
Other examples of conditions which may warrant an annulled marriage include:
- A person was mentally incompetent.
- A person was forced into marriage.
- A person committed fraud.
- A person was sterile or impotent.
- A person had a venereal disease.
- A person was under the age of 16 or between 16-18 and without parental consent.
Once the action has been filed to annul a marriage, a couple cannot remain living with one another. Cohabitating will terminate the motion by the court.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a somewhat informal method to deal with the issues of a divorce. A neutral third party trained in divorce matters can help couples resolve their issues and eliminate the process of a trial. Whether talking about child custody or spousal support, a gamut of issues is explored. The outcome for ADR can be:
- Binding. A neutral third party will listen to both sides and then decide on the outcome. Often this person is a lawyer or judge and trained in the issues surrounding divorce. A binding agreement is legal and both parties must follow the instructions of the contract once official.
- Nonbinding. A neutral third party will work with the couple to resolve the issues in ending the marriage, but the decisions remain with the spouses. In nonbinding ADR, couples are free to reject the recommendations of the mediator.
ADR can save a great deal of time and money when compared to regular litigation. The process is recommended for couples that have a respectful relationship. In the case of physical or emotional abuse, ADR is not an effective tool. Other benefits to working with an ADR mediator include:
- Facilitation of a wide range of solutions
- Implementation of a “win-win” approach to problem solving
- Preservation of spousal relationship
Child Custody Determinations
A divorce can bring sadness to the whole family, particularly to the children. The changes that often need to take place can affect the children and, in some cases, they will have to start living between two households. Although the state of Michigan doesn’t require a parenting plan, it is highly advisable that spouses devise one in which they both can agree.
If a plan is not determined by the parents, the court will rule on the custody of the children. In Michigan there are four types of custody which could be granted, including:
- Sole legal custody. In this form of custody, one spouse is granted the right to make decisions on the educational, religious and medical needs of the children.
- Sole physical custody. Sole physical custody grants one spouse the right to be the only decision-maker in all areas of caregiving, like providing food, shelter and emotional support, among other aspects.
- Joint legal custody. This custody type gives both parents the right to make important decisions, such as educational needs for the children.
- Joint physical custody. Both parents meet all the needs of the children.
The court has the right to withhold visitation rights or not grant custody due to adverse conditions that exist in the home, such as domestic violence, illegal drug use and other hazardous situations.
Visitation is defined by time spent with the children. If a parent, for example, is awarded sole custody, the other person may receive visitation. Every case is different and the court will determine custody based upon:
- The capacity of a parent to provide
- The permanence of the home
- The mental and physical health of each spouse
- The love and affection between the children and each parent
Each parent is responsible for the needs of the children. The Michigan court system uses a variety of factors to determine the financial contribution of each parent.
The court looks at the income of both parents, the number of overnight stays, tax exemptions, medical insurance and child care expenses.
The Friend of the Court Bureau developed the Michigan child support guideline that is in place to determine the proper financial contribution by each parent.
Child Support Enforcement
Once the official ruling has been set for child support, the financial contribution needs to be paid. Consequences are in place to enforce that parents pay child support including:
- A lien against property
- A levy against bank accounts
- Income withholdings
- Drivers license suspension and revocation
- Denial of professional license renewal
- Credit reporting
- Passport denial with delinquent amounts of more than $2,500
- Income tax interception
Establishing paternity of children is necessary to receive child support. Some other reasons this action is important may include knowing the father’s medical history and for the child to receive both life insurance and medical benefits. Determining paternity can give parents the opportunity for visitation and to help make legal decisions for the children.
In Michigan, debts and assets acquired in the marriage belong to both parties. Property is defined as either marital or separate. Some examples of separate property may include a gift, an inheritance or property acquired before the marriage. The court uses a variety of factors to divide property including:
- The source of the property
- The contribution towards the acquisition
- The length of the marriage
- The earning potential of each spouse
- The financial needs of each spouse and the children
- Other factors deemed relevant by the court
If property items have become commingled in the marriage, they may be considered marital assets. There is room to negotiate in the division of property and a Michigan divorce attorney can inform you on the ways in which commingled property is handled.
Division Of Property
Michigan is an equitable state for property division and essentially this means that assets and debts acquired in the marriage are distributed in a reasonable and fair manner. However, this doesn’t mean items are divided down the middle and dispersed. If a spouse stayed home to care for the children instead of pursuing a career, for instance, he or she may end up with more assets to factor in the contribution of raising the children.
Some of the assets and debts that are divided include:
- Real estate, a family home and other property
- Household items including furniture and clothing
- Retirement assets
- Stocks, bonds, 401(k)s and similar accounts
- Collectibles such as art, baseball cars or guns
- Automobiles, motorcycles and boats
- Credit cards and other liabilities
Alimony, or spousal support, refers to providing income to a spouse that will have a hard time financially after the divorce. The court will assess many points in order to decide whether or not alimony will be granted. Alimony considerations may include:
- The length of the marriage
- The division of the property
- The age and health of each spouse
- Tax obligations
- Employability of each spouse
- Education level
When a post-divorce modification is required, it is often due to a life-changing event. Some of the changes that can happen to a spouse are:
- Loss of employment
- A debilitating injury
- Job relocation
These changes can happen without notice and as such, might change the child support and alimony payment amounts, the residency of the children and the parenting time. Child custody is another area that, if a spouse wants to change, will require a post-divorce alteration.
Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are effective planning tools and protect each spouse in the event a marriage ends in divorce. A prenuptial agreement is constructed before the marriage is legal and a postnuptial agreement is made after a couple has married. There are a variety of benefits to such agreements, including protecting intended beneficiaries, entering into the union with more confidence and safeguarding a business.
In an ideal situation, the grandparents will continue to spend time with the grandchildren after a divorce. There are some instances, however, in which it could be necessary to petition to see the grandchildren. The court will assess if visitation is in the best interests of the children.
To learn more about the legal issues that will affect your family, contact us today to speak to an Michigan divorce lawyer.