Family Law

Family law in Michigan covers numerous legal issues facing families, couples, and children. A couple must divide up their property. If they have minor children, they must make plans for co-parenting the children, including custody, visitation, and child support. Some criminal charges and cases involving alleged abuse and neglect of a child may lead to divorce filings. This could be because of the strain those ordeals place on a marriage, or other reasons. Divorces and other family law cases present different issues and challenges than those other types of cases, even when they all arise within a family. Some Michigan family lawyers practice in all three areas of law in order to help people deal with the unique challenges they are facing.

What Happens in a Michigan Divorce Case?

In order to file for divorce in Michigan, a person or their spouse must have lived here for a minimum of six months. They can file for divorce in the county circuit court of the county where they or their spouse live.

Michigan is a “no fault” divorce state. State law does not require proof of wrongdoing by a spouse for a court to grant a divorce. In the past, it was necessary to prove something like abuse, cruelty, abandonment, or adultery, but now the only requirement is testimony that a “breakdown of the marriage” has occurred.

Even if both spouses agree that the marriage has broken down, they still have many more issues to resolve. Issues that often present themselves in Michigan divorce include:

  • Child custody;
  • Child support;
  • Marital property division; and
  • Spousal support.

Once a person has filed a complaint, they must have their spouse served with a copy of the complaint and other paperwork. The spouse has three to four weeks to file an answer. From there, either party can ask the court to issue temporary orders on issues like child custody, parenting time, and support. The attorneys can exchange information and evidence in a process known as “discovery.”

The parties might try to negotiate a settlement, or the parties may submit to a process known as mediation to help them come to an agreement. If the spouses cannot reach an agreement on some or all of the issues in their case, the court will decide for them after a trial.

Divorce is often a difficult emotional ordeal. It is not uncommon for a person going through a divorce to want to use legal maneuvers to “get back” at their soon-to-be-ex. Judges in Michigan courts tend to frown on this, though. They prefer to focus their attention on resolving specific issues like how to divide a couple’s property or how much child support to award to a parent.

Child Custody and Child Support in Michigan

Under Michigan law, the most important factor in determining child custody and child support is the “best interest of the child.” This is an intentionally vague standard. Judges look at the unique circumstances of each child to assess what is in their best interest.

Child custody includes the right to make decisions about a child’s educational and medical needs, to determine where the child lives, and to have physical possession of the child. State law considers it to be in a child’s best interest to have a close relationship with both parents. If a child resides with one parent most of the time, the other parent should have a significant amount of “parenting time,” unless there is a compelling reason for the court to decide otherwise.

The purpose of child support is to make sure both parents financially contribute to a child’s well-being. State law uses a formula to determine the amount of support. Child support in Michigan consists of periodic cash payments, and may also include health insurance coverage and payment of medical and other expenses.

Property Division in Michigan Divorce Cases

In a Michigan divorce, most property acquired during the marriage is considered “marital property.” Property is considered one spouse’s “separate property” if that spouse:

  • Owned it before the marriage; or
  • Received it during the marriage as a gift or through inheritance.

Michigan uses the rule of “equitable distribution” of marital property. This is not the same as “equal distribution.” A division of marital property does not have to be exactly 50/50 to be equitable. It just has to be fair to both parties, based on factors like the length of the marriage, each spouse’s financial contributions to the marital property, and their future financial needs and earning potential. A court can consider one spouse’s fault in the breakdown of the marriage, but property division is not a way to punish a spouse.

Spousal Support in Michigan Divorce Cases

Spousal support, sometimes known as “alimony,” is potentially available in many Michigan divorces. Courts will consider factors like:

  • How long the parties were married;
  • Their ages;
  • Their ability to support themselves through employment or other income;
  • Their health and medical needs;
  • The standard of living established during the marriage;
  • The amount of marital property awarded to each party; and
  • The ability of either party to pay support.

As with property division, a court can consider “fault,” but spousal support is not a punishment for misconduct.

Michigan law identifies two types of spousal support:

  • Rehabilitative spousal support gives a person who was financially dependent on their spouse the means to become self-supporting. This type of support is often awarded for a limited period of time.
  • Permanent spousal support can be awarded for any other reason, as long as it is fair to the parties. The obligation to pay this type of spousal support typically continues until the death of either party.

What Happens After a Divorce Case Is Over?

Once a judge has signed an order granting the divorce, the marriage is over, but the relationship between the ex-spouses might continue for a long time. If they have children together, they will continue co-parenting until the children turn eighteen — and for quite some time after that.

It might be necessary to return to court after a divorce to address various concerns. If one party is not fulfilling their obligations, such as by not paying support or not allowing the other party to have parenting time, the court can take action to enforce its orders. Changes in circumstances might require the court to modify parts of its orders, such as by increasing or reducing child or spousal support, or modifying the child custody arrangement.

Tracie L McCarn-Dinehart is a family lawyer in Ludington who practices with North Pointe Legal. She represents clients throughout Michigan, including Mason, Manistee, Benzie, Oceana, and Lake Counties. If you have questions about a family law matter in Michigan, please contact us online or at (231) 480-1491 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.