If you are planning to divorce in Michigan, you are probably wondering just how long it will take, and what you will encounter during the divorce process. The answer, as you might suspect, depends somewhat on the facts of your case, but there is much that is predictable about the timeline for a Michigan divorce.
You may have started talking about divorce with your spouse weeks or months ago, but the formal start of the process is when one of you files a divorce complaint in the Circuit Court for the county where you live. The divorce complaint will be accompanied by a summons, which essentially tells the other party that a lawsuit has been filed, and what they need to do. If you have children, you will also file a Verified Statement that provides information to the Friend of the Court for child support purposes. Depending on your situation, there may be other documents filed with the court as well.
What Happens After a Divorce Complaint is Filed
Once you file a divorce complaint, it needs to get into the hands of your spouse. This can happen in a number of ways. If your spouse is willing, they can sign (in front of a notary) an acknowledgment that they received the summons and complaint and any other documents. You must then file that acknowledgment with the court. If your spouse is unwilling to accept the papers, you can have them served by a process server. If your spouse dodges service, or you don’t know where they are, you may be able to get the court to allow you to serve them by publishing a notice in a legal newspaper and/or mailing notice to their last known address. Obviously, the harder it is to serve your spouse with notice of the divorce case, the longer this phase will take.
Once your spouse has been served, they have a limited period of time in which to answer the complaint. If they were personally served, they have 21 days from the date of service. If they were served by mail or outside of Michigan, they have 28 days.
What if your spouse refuses to answer the complaint within the time given (or simply fails to do so)? You can enter a default against them. This simply means that the court acknowledges they have failed to answer the complaint, and you can proceed with the divorce without their participation. Some couples agree that one party will file for divorce, and the other will default so that the divorce can be granted as quickly as possible. This may be a risky strategy if your spouse is the one who files, as they can control the terms of the divorce judgment.
Divorcing With or Without Minor Children
As you probably expect, having minor children from the marriage means that your divorce will take longer. When you file your divorce complaint, if you have minor children, Oakland County courts will automatically schedule an Early Intervention Conference (EIC) before a Friend of the Court referee to try to help you and your spouse identify and/or address any unresolved issues regarding your children.
If you don’t have minor children, and you are proceeding on a default, or you and your spouse agree on all terms of your divorce, you may be granted a divorce in as little as 60 days from the date the divorce complaint was filed. If you do have minor children, the waiting period is generally six months from the date the divorce complaint was filed. However, if you and your spouse have resolved all issues in your divorce, and the court feels there is a compelling reason to do so, it may grant a divorce sooner.
Exchanging Information: Discovery
If you and your spouse have not resolved all your issues, there is a period for discovery built into your divorce timeline. In Michigan, you and your spouse are required to make full disclosure about your finances to each other. If you fail to do so, especially if you deliberately hide assets, you could be penalized.
Discovery includes things like depositions, requests to produce documents, and written questions you must answer under oath, which are called interrogatories. Once information about your finances and other matters are exchanged, you will be better able to negotiate a settlement in your divorce. However, you need not wait for formal discovery requests to exchange information. It is generally less expensive to informally exchange tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, and other information you would be entitled to seek in discovery.
Most couples settle their divorce at some time during informal or formal discovery. Your attorneys will draft a Judgment of Divorce which you, your spouse, and the judge in your case will sign, making your divorce final. If you are unable to reach agreement, your divorce will go to trial. Fewer than 5% of Michigan divorces go to trial. Trials can be very costly, so anything you might hope to “win” in a trial might be offset by the expense of preparing for and conducting trial. The vast majority of Michigan divorces, even those that end in trial, are concluded less than a year from the date they were filed.
If you have questions about divorce in Michigan, or what the timeline for a Michigan divorce would be in your particular case, please contact our law office to schedule a consultation.