Divorce Law

How to File for Divorce in Michigan

Filing for divorce is never an easy choice, but Michigan law aims to make the process as straightforward as possible. The state provides an online self-help center to aid with the process and lays out a number of requirements and deadlines to guide you. However, working with a Michigan divorce attorney may still be necessary to fully protect your rights and interests, particularly if you share assets or minor children with your spouse.

Michigan Divorce Requirements

When filing for divorce in Michigan, the spouse filing is referred to as the plaintiff, and the other spouse is referred to as the defendant. The plaintiff and defendant have equal rights in a divorce.

No-Fault Divorces in Michigan

Michigan uses a no-fault divorce standard, meaning neither you nor your spouse needs to prove the other was at fault or did anything wrong to cause the divorce. Instead, Michigan law requires you to state that the marriage has experienced an irretrievable breakdown, meaning you believe you cannot repair your marriage.

Residency Requirements

Michigan law requires at least one spouse to reside in the state for a minimum of 180 days immediately before filing for divorce. You or your spouse must also live in the county you are filing in for at least 10 days before filing.

However, there is an exception to the county requirement if:

  1. The spouse who is not filing for divorce is born in or is a citizen of another country
  2. You and your spouse have a child under 18 years old
  3. The court believes the children are at risk of the other spouse taking them out of the country

Waiting Periods for Final Divorce Decrees

Michigan requires a 60-day waiting period before a court can grant your divorce. Even if you and your spouse agree on everything and want the divorce over with as soon as possible, you still need to wait 60 days before the divorce is final.

Divorces involving minor children have a longer waiting period of six months. These cases are also typically referred to a Friend of the Court, such as a social worker or child welfare evaluator. This gives you and your spouse ample time to negotiate issues like child support based on the Income Share Model and child custody and parenting time, along with arrangements for holidays.

The Process of Filing for Divorce in Michigan

When filing for a divorce in Michigan, your first step is completing the Complaint for Divorce and filing it with the appropriate county clerk court per the residency requirements. Each county court has its own associated filing fees. Depending on your circumstances or county, you may need to file additional documentation.

Serving the Complaint to Your Spouse

Within 91 days of filing, you must serve your spouse with a copy of the summons, complaint, and any other documents you filed with the county clerk regarding your divorce proceedings.

You can hire a professional process server, the local sheriff’s department, or a friend to personally hand your spouse copies of the documents. Additionally, they must fill out a Proof of Service form in the presence of a notary public and file it with the court. You may send the documents via certified mail with a signed return receipt to serve as the proper proof of service.

Responding to the Divorce Complaint

Once your spouse receives the divorce filing, they have 21 days to file an answer or counterclaim if they live in Michigan or 28 days if they live outside the state. The way your spouse responds to the complaint will determine the next steps in your divorce.

  • Uncontested divorce: Your spouse files an answer that accepts the terms of divorce stated in your original complaint.
  • Contested divorce: Your spouse files an answer and a counterclaim rejecting the terms in your original complaint, meaning you will need to resolve disputes through mediation or at trial before a judge.
  • Default judgment: Your spouse does not respond at all, so the court considers your spouse to have no objection to the terms in the original complaint.

Finalizing Your Divorce

In a contested divorce, either you and your spouse resolve any issues, or a judge does. Once the marital settlement agreement is put in writing and submitted to the court, the judge may issue a final divorce decree.

When the judge grants the final decree, the court provides the spouses the opportunity to return to their maiden names or adopt another last name.

Common Issues in Michigan Divorces

If you and your spouse share children under 18, the state requires a six-month waiting period for resolving issues like child custody, child support, parenting time, and visitation.

Typically, the court will refer the case to a person called a Friend of the Court, like a child welfare evaluator or caseworker. This person helps determine what is in the child’s best interest and calculate child support based on the Income Share Model.

If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement, the caseworker or the judge will consider many factors to determine the child’s best interest. These factors may include:

  • The child’s love, affection, and emotional ties with each parent
  • The child’s preference
  • Each parent’s capacity to provide the child with food, clothing, and medical care
  • Each parent’s capacity to continue the child’s education and religious upbringing and give the child a safe and stable environment
  • Each parent’s moral, physical, and mental fitness, including whether there are any instances of domestic violence or other criminal acts

Property Division in Michigan Divorces

Michigan is an equitable distribution state, which generally divides any marital property and debt between both spouses as fairly as possible. This does not, however, mean that everything is divided absolutely equally. Several circumstances may trigger a judge to divide it differently.

When dividing debt, for example, the court may consider whether:

  • One spouse will likely have more income to pay debt
  • One spouse is responsible for creating debt without the other spouse’s consent

Alternatives to a Contested Divorce in Michigan

A contested divorce is not the only option that Michigan law provides if you wish to end your relationship with your spouse. Depending on circumstances, you might want to discuss these options with your attorney to determine the best option for you, your spouse, and potentially your children. These can involve mediation, an uncontested divorce, or legal separation.

Separate Maintenance

Michigan law allows you to file an action of separate maintenance, often referred to as legal separation, as an alternative to divorce. Similar to the divorce process, you may file your action with the county court clerk with the same residency, waiting periods, and service requirements.

The court will still determine child support, parenting time, spousal support, and the division of assets if you cannot, but you and your spouse will remain legally married. Some choose this avenue if the spouses do not wish to divorce for religious reasons. However, some spouses may respond to this action with a counterclaim for divorce, and then you must follow that process.

Annulments and Prohibited Marriages

There are some marriages that Michigan law prohibits or treats as if the marriage never existed. Michigan allows you to seek an annulment and dissolve the marriage as if it never existed in cases of:

  • Bigamy or polygamy
  • Incest with a close blood relative
  • A spouse who is underage or lacks legal competence
  • A spouse who is physically unable to consummate the marriage
  • Force or fraud to induce the marriage agreement