Any individual wishing to start a domestic relations action must file the correct papers according to the specific Michigan statutes and the rules ("Michigan Court Rules"). There are often many complicated issues and legal matters involved in a domestic relations case including property and debt division, Child Custody, Visitation, and Child Support. The Court will not require a party to use an attorney to start or defend an action but it is advisable to have an attorney to give you advice, file the correct papers, and follow the specific court procedures mandated by law to prevent losing rights associated with the Divorce process. Further, whenever a Pension or Alimony is a factor it is necessary to have an attorney who can advise you of your rights to a spouse's Pension or future earnings. An attorney will also be necessary to split any pension by obtaining a certified Qualified Domestic Relations Order ("QDRO") and serving it on the Plan Administrator. Pension division is an extremely complex area of the law and Perrone Law, P.C. has extensive experience in dividing Pension Benefits. The following is a general overview of the stages in the Divorce process.Plaintiff's Complaint
Every domestic relations matter begins with the plaintiff filing a complaint which asks the court to grant an order. For example, a complaint may ask the court to grant a divorce, provide for child or spousal support, start an out-of-state support collection effort, or grant an order for custody of a child. The defendant is the person against whom the complaint is filed.Service of Process
The court rules provide that the defendant be served with a copy of the complaint and summons. The summons is an instrument used to commence a civil action. The summons notifies a person that an action has been started against them, that they are required to answer the complaint that was filed, and appear on the day named.
The typical way to give notice are
- for a third party to personally hand the papers to the defendant, or
- send them by certified mail as may be required by Michigan Court Rule.
If the person served does not file an answer to the complaint within the time permitted by Michigan Court Rule, they may lose the right to have their concerns heard by the court. This could result in the court entering an order giving the Plaintiff everything he or she requested in the complaint. It is essential therefore that the defendant make prompt response to the complaint.Domestic Relations Procedures Divorce
A person who wants to end their marriage must have a circuit court enter an order ending the marriage. To grant the divorce, the court must find that there has been a breakdown in the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed, and the parties cannot live together as husband and wife. At least one of the parties must appear in court to testify that this breakdown really does exist. In Michigan, a divorce can be granted even if one of the parties does not want the divorce. A divorce ends the legal relationship between a husband and wife. The divorce, however, does not end the parties relationship, even though the relationship will change.
Many decisions must be made before a divorce is granted. These decisions may include:
- Who will make decisions, provide daily guidance and take care of the children? (custody)
- What contact will children have with a parent they don't live with? (parenting time)
- How should the property gathered during the marriage be divided? (property settlement)
- How will financial responsibilities for the children be divided? (child support)
- What amount, if any, should one party contribute toward the support of the other, either permanently or temporarily? (spousal support-alimony)
- How will the children's medical, dental and other health care expenses be paid? (health care coverage)
- Will the wife take back her maiden name? (restoration of maiden name)
- Will children be allowed to move from the State of Michigan? (domicile)
Divorce issues may be resolved in the following ways:
- The parties may be able to reach an agreement by themselves or by talking to their attorneys.
- Mediation is available through the Court, through private attorneys skilled at mediation, or through private agencies to resolve the issues of property and custody.
- The Friend of the Court referee may hear issues of support, custody and parenting time, and make recommendations to the judge when requested to do so.
- The judge may help in settling a matter by having a pretrial or settlement conference.
- The judge will hold a hearing or trial on the issues that have not been resolved.
Recommendations on custody, parenting time and child support will be made by the Friend of the Court office, if the circuit court orders the office to do so.Conciliation
In some cases a court may immediately enter a child support, custody and parenting time order upon the request of a plaintiff or defendant. In Ingham County this is usually done only after a Conciliation Conference at which the parties must appear and present their positions. Whether or not the parties are in agreement, the Friend of the Court Conciliator will make a timely recommendation to the Court, which will become a temporary order. Either party may request the court to hold a hearing to change the order by filing objections within 14 days after they receive the order. If objections are not filed within 14 days, the order automatically becomes a temporary order of the Court. Even if an objection is filed, the Court=s order remains in full effect until the Court modifies it, so that support, custody and parenting time orders will be legally binding on all parties.Reconciliations and Dismissals
Not every divorce matter that is started ends in a divorce. If the parties are attempting to work out their differences and wish to have enforcement of their court orders suspended, they must provide the Court and the Friend of the Court with written notice of their RECONCILIATION. A reconciliation notice does not dismiss a divorce action, but suspends it. If the parties have resolved their differences and wish to stop the divorce action, they must file an Order of Dismissal with the circuit court and provide a copy to the Friend of the Court. In either situation, if children have received public assistance, arrangements to pay any back support must be made with the Friend of the Court who will continue to enforce previous Court orders until all public assistance is paid to the State.Judgments
A judgment contains the orders of the court which address support, parenting time, custody, property and other related issues. There is a minimum 60 day waiting period prior to conclusion of divorce cases without children and a 6 month waiting period for divorces where there are minor children before a final Judgment may enter. If the matter is contested the proceedings will take longer to complete because a trial will have to be held. At trial, the Judge will hear and determine the issues presented, and a written Judgment will be presented and signed by the Judge. The divorce judgment can thereafter be changed only by the judge. Once a judgment has been entered, parties must comply with its terms. The language in your judgment takes precedence over earlier orders, or over any Aguidelines@ contained in this Handbook. If you are dissatisfied with your judgment, you may wish to contact an attorney. Once an order has been entered, a party has 21 days in which to file an appeal with the Court of Appeals.Modification of a Judgment or Order
After a judgment or order has been entered in a divorce action, there are some orders that can be modified (changed). These include: custody, parenting time, support, and change of domicile provisions. A change can only occur if: both parties have signed an agreement (stipulation and consent agreement), which, if approved by the court, will be entered as an order or Amended Judgment; OR a motion has been filed, a hearing has been held and the court enters a written order granting a change. Note: Only a Judge can sign orders or judgments. The Friend of the Court has a responsibility to make recommendations to the Court in certain circumstances for child support, custody and parenting time modification.