Residency Requirements and Grounds for Divorce
You must be a Michigan resident for 180 days and a county resident for 10 days to file for divorce or "dissolution." Either spouse can get a divorce by stating in divorce papers that there has been a breakdown in the marriage and there's no reasonable likelihood it can be preserved.
A divorce case begins when one spouse files a "Complaint of Divorce" in the Circuit Court. If the parties agree on issues of property and debt division, and child custody and support issues, the divorce can be finalized without a trial. If they don't agree, the court schedules a hearing on the issues.
Once the complaint is filed, either party can request temporary assistance from the court in the form of temporary custody and child support orders, and orders to determine who pays community debts on a temporary basis.
Dividing the Property
In Michigan, assets and debts acquired during your marriage -called "marital property" - will be divided "equitably" in a divorce. Generally, you keep your "separate property," which is the property you had before marriage. "Equitable" does not necessarily mean "equal." Instead, it means the court may distribute all of the marital property a manner that is fair and equitable under the circumstances.
Be prepared with information on your property, including when you purchased it, an estimate of value, and details such as account numbers, serial numbers and so forth. You'll be ready to meet with a Michigan divorce lawyer and it can save you a lot of time and money.
A court can order alimony - called "spousal support" in Michigan if it considers such an award to be just and reasonable. Factors in deciding support issues include:
- Ability to pay
- The character and situation of the parties
- The past relations and conduct of the parties
- Marriage length
- Spouses' ability to work
- The ages, needs, and health of each spouse
Most spousal support is ordered for a specific length of time. Support can continue indefinitely, or end when a specific event happens. Remarriage of the recipient is a common example.
Child Custody and Visitation
In Michigan, the court will make child custody decisions based on what is in the "best interest" of the child if the parents can't agree. Michigan law encourages joint custody, which includes physical and/or legal custody. A non-custodial parent - the parent who does not have primary physical custody of the child - is usually granted visitation, which is called "parenting time."
In deciding custody issues, the court looks at many factors, including:
- The parent and child relationships
- The parents' capacities to love and nurture their child, and provide for material, educational and religious needs
- The child's history in his environment, and whether it should be maintained
- Stability of the proposed custodial home
- The child's preferences, if reasonable
- Whether each parent can enable and encourage the child's relationship with the other parent
- Domestic violence
In deciding joint custody issues, the court looks at these factors:
- Whether the parents agree on joint custody
- Whether the parents can cooperate in making child-rearing decisions
Once the court's custody order is signed and recorded with the court clerk, parents are bound by it. Modifying an order is based on a change in circumstances, and changes are in the child's best interest.
Usually the non-custodial parent pays child support; the amount is calculated based on state child support guidelines/formula. The guidelines take a number of factors into account, such as the parent's net income, number of children supported, and special situations, such as split parenting time.
A court can deviate from the guidelines support amount, but must give written reasons for doing so. You can seek a modification in support when there's a change in circumstances such as a big change in the paying parent's income.
Questions for Your Attorney