DIFFICULTY: Legal aid might be required
Initial Filing Fee: $230 if minor children are involved, $150 if they are not
Unlike many other states, in Michigan you do not need to provide a reason for divorces, meaning that there are only no-fault divorces. When there is a breakdown in the marriage to the point that the objects of matrimony are destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage may be preserved, a divorce is the reasonable end. There are three forms of divorce or separation in Michigan: divorce, annulment, and separate maintenance. Divorce is when property and any custody of children are divided and the marriage is legally ended. Annulment is when the state deems a marriage void and does not issue a decree of divorce. An annulment occurs under any of the following situations:
• One of the spouses was under the legal age of consent when the couple married and they have separated while that spouse was still under age and no longer cohabit
• The consent of one of the parties was obtained through fraud or force and there has been no subsequent voluntary cohabitation
• The marriage was between a woman and her father, grandfather, son, grandson, her brother, nephew, uncle, a first cousin, stepfather, grandmother’s husband, daughter’s husband, granddaughter’s husband, husband’s father, husband’s grandfather, or husband’s son
• Either party was incapable in law of contracting at the time of marriage
• Physical incapability of one of the party brought forward by the injured party, within two years of marriage
While separate maintenance means that the two parties no longer live together and set out the rights and responsibilities of each without ending the marriage. In such cases, like in a divorce, the court will divide the property and debts of the two parties, decide child custody, order child support or parenting time, order spousal support, and anything else relating to the parties former joint responsibilities or rights. As this does not end the marriage, neither party may remarry until a divorce or annulment is achieved. In general, divorces where one of the parties does not consent the divorce or where the parties cannot agree on the ways in which to divide support of children, their estates, and so forth, should employ the assistance of attorneys as the process becomes much more complicated.
Step 1: Determine Where to File for Divorce
To file for divorce, annulment, or separate maintenance in Michigan, either you or your spouse must reside with the state and have been there for at least six months. If you reside in the state but your spouse does not you can apply for divorce in Michigan as well, although if they have never lived in Michigan then there might be issues with jurisdiction. You will want to file in the Circuit Court in the county where either you or your spouse reside.
Step 2: File a Complaint and Summons
In the case of a divorce, the plaintiff will file a Complaint for Divorce in the family division of the circuit court. This complaint will outline the reason for divorce as well as the general information regarding both parties and any minor children they have together. Once the complaint and summons are complete, you will need to go to the clerk of the circuit court and pay a fee in order to file the complaint. Then you will need to decide what method should be used to serve the defendant and pay the relative fee, which will range from $5 to $21 plus mileage. If you would prefer not to use the interactive divorce forms below, then you will need to ask the clerk of the circuit court for the appropriate forms.
Step 3: Serve the Defendant
Once the complaint and summons are filed, the plaintiff will need to discuss how they would like the defendant to be served with the clerk of the court. They may choose to serve them through certified mail with a return receipt or have the papers personally delivered by a service agent. In extraordinary cases, when the defendant cannot be found, the court may allow the service to be published in a public media, such as a newspaper, as a means of satisfying this legal requirement.
Step 4: The Defendant Answers
Once the defendant receives the service they will have a certain period of time in which to answer the complaint. If they choose to go forward with all of the plaintiff’s request they may say so in writing. Should they disagree, however, they will need to provide an answer to the complaint and serve the plaintiff their answer within 21 days of being served them self. If the service was performed outside of Michigan, however, or if the service was performed by publication, they will have at least 28 days in which to answer and serve the plaintiff. Should the defendant opt not to answer the claim and summons, the court will likely enter a judgment in favor of the plaintiff, adhering to most if not all of their requests.
Step 5: Mediation and the Friend of the Court
If the judge wishes, or if the parties are unwilling or incapable of reaching an agreement on their own, then the court may order some for of intermediary to assist them in the process. Alternatively, the two parties may employ attorneys who will lead them through the process of deciding which party will receive what should a divorce proceed. In cases where the defendant seeks to prevent a divorce, however, this step may remain until after the judge has decided that a divorce is necessary. Additionally, should there be minor children involved in the divorce, the court will appoint a Friend of the Court to work with the parties to determine custody, parenting time, and child support. The Friend of the Court will then submit a report and suggested decision to the judge, though the judge is not required to use or adhere to this information or decision.
Step 6: The Hearing
The final step before a judgment is reached is the hearing. At the hearing each party will be allowed to state their side, present evidence, and argue for the specifics of a divorce or against a divorce if that is the case. Once the hearing is concluded, the judge will render a verdict and award a decree of divorce if they deem that one is necessary. Attached to this decree will be all the stipulations and requirements of the divorce, such as child support, spousal maintenance, and so forth, clearly stated for both parties to understand and adhere to. If the plaintiff fails to show for the hearing then the judge may decide to reschedule the hearing or throw the case out. While if the defendant fails to show the judge may reschedule the hearing or continue with the hearing and rule in favor of the plaintiff. Once the decree of divorce is issued it will be filed with the clerk of the court and the divorce process will come to a conclusion. The actual divorce, however, will not take legal effect for a 60 days if no minor children were involved or six months if they were.