Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce in Michigan


Q.    I’ve heard Michigan divorces are “no fault.” What does “no fault” divorce mean?

A.    Michigan is known as a “no fault” divorce state, which means there is only one ground for divorce: “a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.” However, the words “no fault” may be misleading. If the parties reach a final settlement on all issues, fault is not a factor. If, however, there is a dispute about alimony, property, support, parenting time, or custody, fault may become an active ingredient in resolving these issues. For this reason, your attorney may go over the indiscretions of the parties with you.

Q.    Will my case have to go to court?

A.    Not necessarily. Most divorce cases are settled, which means you and your spouse (under the advisement of your attorneys) reach a mutual agreement that is then placed on the court’s record. If an agreement cannot be reached, the case will go before a judge.

Q.    Can my spouse and I legally separate rather than get a divorce?

A.    In Michigan, legal separation is known as “separate maintenance.” This arrangement is legal, but seldom done. The procedure is similar to a divorce, except that neither party may remarry. The law states that if one party institutes a separate maintenance suit and the other party files for divorce, the court will only consider the case as a divorce matter and cannot enter a judgment of separate maintenance.

Q.    How is property is divided by the courts?

A.    The parties usually arrive at a settlement of all their property rights after negotiation or after a Friend of the Court referee hearing.   If settlement is not reached, the matter will be decided by the court after the trial is concluded.  Again, you are advised that you much be absolutely sure that you understand and accept the settlement as written or placed on the record in open court, because property settlements may not be modified, except in cases of fraud, clerical error, mistake, or gross unfairness in the initial trial.  If your property includes retirement or pension plans, your attorney, upon request, will explain your rights under the qualified domestic relations order procedures.

Property settlements in judgments may be enforced by execution, garnishment, show cause proceedings, etc.  Your attorney will explain these procedures to you upon request.

In determining property issues, the court will usually consider the following:

  1. Length of marriage
  2. Contributions of the parties to the marital estate
  3. Age of the parties
  4. Health of the parties
  5. Life status of the parties
  6. Necessities and circumstances of the parties
  7. Earning abilities of the parties
  8. Past relations and conduct of the parties
  9. General principles of equity

Generally, property of the marriage is divided 50-50.

Q.    How long will a divorce take?

A.    A divorce cannot be granted in less than 60 days. When there are minor children involved, the parties must wait six months. However, the six-month period may be waived under certain circumstances.

Q.   Will I receive spousal support?

It depends. You and your spouse may agree that there will be spousal support, how much, and for how long. If you and your spouse do not agree, the court will make a determination based on several factors. Some of these are the length of the marriage, and both parties’ ages, health, and ability to work. The court will examine the paying party’s ability to pay, particularly if it appears that party is deliberately earning less than he or she is capable of.

Although Michigan is a “no-fault” divorce state, that only means fault need not be present to get a divorce. Fault is considered in awarding spousal support, as are general principles of equity and fairness.

Q.   Who gets custody of the kids?

There are two types of custody: legal custody, which means who makes major life choices (like religious, medical, and educational decisions) for the kids, and physical custody, which simply means which parent the child is living with.

As a matter of public policy, Michigan believes it is best for children to have relationships with both parents, so some form of joint custody is common. Parents may agree on a custody arrangement that works for them, or if they cannot agree, the court will decide custody based on twelve “best interest factors.” These include such things as the emotional ties existing between the child and each party, the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, the moral fitness of the parties, and the mental and physical health of the parties.

Q.   What is the divorce process?

In Michigan, a divorce is started when one party files a divorce complaint. The other party then is served with, or agrees to accept delivery of, the complaint. That party then has a limited time to file an answer with the court. The court will typically assign dates for pretrial hearings and for one or more meetings with the Friend of the Court if there are children involved. The court will also set dates for submitting witness lists and for discovery, during which process the parties seek information from each other that will be helpful in deciding the case

During this time, the parties and their attorneys may attempt to reach settlement. In fact, the great majority of divorce cases do settle. The attorneys will then prepare a consent judgment of divorce which the parties sign and agree in a brief court hearing to accept. If the parties do not reach settlement, the case will go to trial.

Q.    What happens if I move out of the house before or during the divorce?

There is no legal disadvantage to you if you move out of the house. That is to say, you will not be considered to have abandoned your property or your children by the court, as some people fear. However, you should consider the practical ramifications, such as whether your spouse will cooperate with your seeing the children absent a court order. In any case, it is wise to consult with an attorney BEFORE you move out to discuss minimizing problems and having a smooth transition.