In Michigan, every case follows the same basic divorce process from filing the Complaint to entry of the Divorce Decree or Judgment of Divorce. The following is an outline of the formal divorce process. Remember, not every case will complete the process as most cases settle before trial and a settlement is placed on the record beforehand.
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Here are some terms for clarification:
- The Plaintiff is the person who files the complaint for divorce; and
- The Defendant is the person responding to the divorce.
(To make things more confusing, the Defendant can also be a counter-plaintiff if he/she files a counterclaim for divorce).
A divorce without minor children cannot be completed in less than 60 days and typically will be completed within 6 months. A divorce with minor children cannot be completed in less than 6 months (without special court permission) and typically is completed within 1 year.
Every case must complete the first two steps of the formal divorce process; the remaining steps may not be necessary in every case.
Filing of Complaint for Divorce and Orders
The Complaint for Divorce is the formal lawsuit indicating that a party wants to get divorced and a basic proposed resolution of the issues. Typically, some Orders regarding property or the children will be entered as well. For example, preserving the financial status quo of the parties, prohibiting property transfer or awarding temporary custody. This step of the divorce process must occur in every case.
Service of Process
The Plaintiff (person who files the divorce) must put the Defendant (the person responding to the divorce) on legal notice of the complaint for divorce, also called service of process. Michigan Court rules define the manner and method of service. Typically a defendant is personally served with the Complaint for Divorce by a process server. However, other means of service of process are available, especially when your spouse is avoiding service. This step of the divorce process must occur in every Michigan divorce case.
Answer to Complaint
Within 21 days after the Defendant is served with the lawsuit (28 days if served by mail or if out of state) he/she must file a formal Answer to the Complaint for Divorce. The Answer to Complaint will specifically address the allegations in the Complaint for Divorce and often sets forth what is contested in the case. Key point: If you are served with a lawsuit, a failure to answer the complaint timely can result in really bad things, like a money judgment against you or loss of property, custody or other rights. Protect your rights by always contacting an attorney if you receive notice of a legal proceeding. This step of the divorce process should occur in every Michigan divorce case, but is not mandatory.
Discovery is the formal process of exchanging information to verify facts and discover information and is the next step in the formal process of getting divorced. Typically, an attorney will use three types of discovery, Interrogatories, Subpoenas, and Depositions. This step of the divorce process should occur in every Michigan divorce case, but is not mandatory.
- Interrogatories are written questions that must be answered truthfully (subject to the penalties of perjury).
- A subpoena is an Order to appear or produce documents and is typically served on a business, employer, financial institution or accountant.
- A deposition is live testimony of a witness with a court reporter.
Status or Case Management Conference
Typically the first court appearance is a status or case management conference. This hearing goes by more than one name depending upon where the case is filed (county) however, the purpose of this court appearance is to schedule dates and obtain a timeline for the conclusion of the case. This step of the divorce process must occur in certain counties when there is a Michigan divorce with minor children.
Early Intervention Conference
If your case involves minor children, the first court appearance in some counties is an Early Intervention Conference. The purpose of the conference is to meet with the Friend of the Court and schedule dates and potential referrals concerning custody, support and parenting time. This step of the divorce process should occur in every Michigan divorce case, but is not mandatory.
Mediation is a non-binding, informal process by which a neutral third party listens to the positions of the parties and attempts to facilitate a resolution or settlement. Mediation is helpful in many cases to help resolve a case in a less costly, more economical manner, saving time, money and stress. This step occurs in many Michigan divorce cases, when the parties cannot reach a settlement on their own.
If mediation is not successful, the court will schedule a settlement conference in an attempt to see if the parties can settle a case. If mediation is successful, typically, the settlement conference will also serve as your date of divorce. This step of the divorce process should occur in every Michigan divorce case that has not settled and may proceed to trial.
Trial or Arbitration
At trial, the Judge makes a decision regarding disputed issues. Arbitration is a voluntary process like mediation and is often less costly than going to trial, however, it is very important to understand that Arbitration is binding with limited rights to appeal a bad decision. In either case, a third party (Judge/Arbitrator) determines the parties’ rights and obligations. Most cases settle before Trial or Arbitration, however, if necessary, a Trial or Arbitration is the only mechanism to resolve a case. This step of the divorce process should occur in very few Michigan divorce cases.
By: Daniel Findling
The Divorce Guy, Michigan Divorce Attorneys and Specialists