A Guide to Divorce in Michigan
This is a complete guide to divorce in Michigan.
In this guide, we’ll address your burning questions – including some you didn’t even think to ask.
So if you want to make sure you have a lay of the land (and avoid the pitfalls), we’ve got you covered.
Let’s get started.
- The differences between divorce, annulment and separation
- What are the grounds for divorce in Michigan?
- Deciding what kind of divorce you will go through
- The process of filing for divorce
- How to complete proof of service
- Filing for a divorce online
- Filing for divorce in Michigan without using a lawyer
- How much does divorce cost in Michigan?
- How long does it take to get a divorce?
- Should I retain the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
- Bifurcation of Marital Status
- Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Michigan?
- What is a divorce decree?
- What is a divorce certificate?
- Changing Your Name
- Bonus: Recommended Resources for a Better Divorce
The differences between legal separation, annulment and divorce in Michigan
Married couples can end their marriages through annulment or divorce in Michigan. Legal separation is an alternative to divorce. In Michigan, it is formally known as separate maintenance.
Separate maintenance requires that a married couple decide many of the major issues they are facing, such as child custody and support, alimony, a division of assets, debts, and so forth. A court must approve the separate maintenance agreement which is very similar to a divorce, except at the end of the proceeding, the couple remains married. A legal and binding document will be created that both spouses will need to sign.
Some people choose separate maintenance over divorce for religious reasons or it may allow one spouse to stay on the other’s health insurance or there could be more favorable tax implications. Be sure the check and see what counts as a life event that could cause an employer to deny health coverage before considering this as a benefit. It varies from provider to provider.
In some cases, when one spouse takes on new debt, it may be considered the other spouse’s debt as well. And, in an opposite-sex marriage, any child born by the wife will be considered the husband’s as the legal father whether that is the case or not.
Another thing that’s good to know is that if one spouse files for separate maintenance, but the other spouse decides to file a counterclaim for divorce, the courts will treat the case as a divorce.
Finally, if a person is not a U.S. citizen and they get a divorce, they run the risk of deportation. But with separate maintenance, a noncitizen can still stay in the country even if they don’t live with their spouse.
Annulments are allowed in Michigan, but they are rare. A court can end a marriage and it will be as if the marriage never took place, but it must meet one of the following conditions:
- Bigamy. A person cannot marry another person if they are still married to another person.
- If one of the parties was not mentally capable of entering into a marriage, then an annulment may be possible.
- Age of Consent. To get married in Michigan, you must be at least 18 years old, or at least 16 years old with the permission of your parents.
- Close Relatives. You cannot marry a close relative in Michigan.
- Coercion or Lies. If you were forced into a married or you were lied to about something of a substantial nature to convince you to marry, these may be grounds for annulment as well.
In Michigan, divorce is a permanent and legal end to a marriage. All ties are severed, assets are divided, custody and alimony issues are resolved, and each spouse goes their separate way after a final divorce decree is issued by the courts.
What are the grounds for divorce in Michigan?
Michigan is a no-fault state which means that the only reason that needs to be stated is that there has been a breakdown in the marriage to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there is no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be saved. Put another way, if your marriage is over and there’s no chance it can be saved, then a judge will grant you a divorce.
Before you can file for divorce, you must also meet the state’s residence requirement. At least one spouse must have lived in Michigan for at least 180 days immediately before a complaint is filed with the court.
If you are the plaintiff, you must also be a resident for at least 10 days in the county where you are filing. This helps prevent one spouse from filing for divorce in a county where they believe they might get more favorable treatment.
What are your options for divorce?
It is in your best interest to fully understand all of your options when you are thinking about getting a divorce. The path that you ultimately take will be determined by the relationship you have with your spouse.
Deciding whether to pursue an uncontested divorce in Michigan or attempting to negotiate a settlement through a cooperative effort of some sort could save you a lot of time and money, making it easier for you to transition to life as a single person.
Before we get into the details, there’s one thing I want you to keep in mind.
One type of divorce is not “better” than another. Divorce is not one size fits all. Remember this when you choose, and know that what’s most important is that you choose the process that’s best for you and your spouse.
Here are the types of divorce:
Do-It-Yourself Divorce: What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straight forward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.
Online Divorce: A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.
Litigation: The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids.
Sometimes it’s the only viable option, however. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.
Mediation: With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.
Collaborative Divorce: Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions.
That’s why a Collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist. Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.
Learn More: I’ve really just scratched the surface on the types of divorce. For a deep dive into the pros and cons of these options, be sure to check out our guide on the types of divorce.
What is the process of filing for divorce in Michigan?
You can go through a divorce in Michigan in several possible ways, but there are some basic things that are pretty much the same no matter what type of divorce you choose.
Here are some of the first steps in the process:
Gather important information
When it comes to gathering the information you need, it’s imperative to be organized and proactive. This will give you the best chance at receiving the best possible outcome for your divorce.
Not only will this ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process, but it will also save you time, anxiety, and money (which you’ll want to save for the next parts of your divorce).
Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:
- Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
- Open a credit card in your name alone.
- Order a free credit report.
- Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
If you’re in the dark about your finances, that’s okay. You and your spouse will be required to complete financial affidavits as part of the divorce process. The goal at this point is simply to begin identifying the puzzle pieces.
Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:
- Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
- Pay stubs for the last 3 months
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Retirement account statements
- Pension plan statements
- Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
- Investment account statements
- Life insurance policies
- Mortgage statements
- Real estate appraisals
- Deeds to real estate
- Car registration
- Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
- Car loan statements
- Social security benefit statement
This is only a partial list. You can check out the complete divorce document checklist here.
Complete the initial paperwork
You will need to complete several forms and submit them to start the divorce process. If you’re using an attorney, they will make sure you are using the right forms and that they are filled out correctly.
While every divorce is different, at a minimum, you will need to prepare the following documents:
Complaint for Divorce
This officially starts the divorce action and includes an overview of your situation, including statistical information, the reason for the divorce, property to be divided and if any child support or alimony is being requested.
When you file your paperwork, it must also be served on your spouse. The Summons and Complaint gives a respondent 21 days to answer the complaint if he or she is living in Michigan and 28 days if living out of state. The person who actually serves the paperwork must complete a Proof of Service form that documents delivery of the complaint.
You will need to also complete additional forms if you have minor children.
If you are seeking a waiver of the filing and services fees due to an inability to pay, then you will also need to complete a Waiver/Suspension of Fees and Costs form as well.
File your forms
After you have completed your forms, you will need to file the paperwork at the Clerk of the Court’s office in the county where you or your spouse lives. Make sure you have lived in the county for at least 10 days before filing as this is an important residency requirement.
When you file, you will also need to pay a filing fee of $175 plus a judgment fee of $80. There will also be a fee to have the paperwork served on your spouse. Depending on the method you choose, this may run about $25 to $50.
When you file your forms, you will be given instructions about what comes next that pertain to your specific circumstances.
Completing proof of service in Michigan
After you file for divorce, you must serve your spouse with a copy of the Summons and Complaint as well as any other documents that you filed with the court. You have 91 days from the date you filed to make sure this task is properly carried out.
You cannot serve the papers yourself. You must have someone else who is at least 18 years old and who is not a party to the divorce to serve your spouse. This can either be a friend, a local process server or the sheriff’s department. In Michigan, papers can be served either in person or through the mail.
If the papers are served in person, then the person completing the service must fill out a Proof of Service form and have it notarized and either return it to you or directly to the court. If the papers are mailed, then it must be done either by registered or certified mail along with a return receipt request.
Your spouse will need to sign the return receipt when they get the papers, and the person who serves the papers will still need to fill out a Proof of Service form and it will need to be filed by you or the server with the court along with the signed receipt.
If you have made several attempts to serve your spouse without success, or if you can’t find your spouse, it is possible to ask a judge for permission to complete service another way. To do so, you will need to file a Motion and Verification for Alternate Service. If the judge allows this, then you will follow the judge’s directions for serving the papers.
Can you file for divorce online in Michigan?
It is possible to automate the divorce process online in Michigan to a certain degree. You can start a divorce by filing a summons, complaint and other related documents by completing an Automated Online Divorce Forms interview on the Michigan Legal Help website.
After you input required information, forms will be generated that you can use to move the process forward. This process works best if you are dealing with a simple and uncontested divorce. The more complicated your divorce is, the more you should take a hands-on approach.
It is also possible to do some of the initial paperwork online by retaining the services of a private family law attorney or using one of several firms who specialize in automating the divorce process. You can engage both of these entities online, or by trading emails to complete much of the documentation. This can save time and money, especially when both parties are in agreement about the terms of a divorce.
>> Click here to check out 3 Step Divorce, our favorite online divorce plaform
However, once the paperwork is completed, regardless of how it is completed, you must still file the documentation in person at the courthouse in the county where you live. The paperwork will then need to be filed in person with your spouse according to the procedures laid out by the county where you live.
Filing for divorce in Michigan without using a lawyer
It is possible to get a divorce in Michigan without using a lawyer as long as you meet all requirements for an uncontested divorce.
You and your spouse must agree on all parts of the settlement, including asset division, alimony, child custody and support and all other related matters. In addition, you must also meet the residency requirement of living in the state for six months prior to filing and in the county where you are filing for a minimum of 10 days.
Michigan offers Do-It-Yourself toolkits based on different divorce scenarios that will walk you through all the steps required to complete a divorce on your own. To avoid unnecessary delays, it’s important to choose and complete all the right forms that are pertinent to your particular situation.
Another way to avoid using a lawyer while going through a divorce in Michigan is through the use of a mediator, as long as both you and your spouse agree on this option. Over the course of one or more sessions, a mediator will review financial documents, forms and worksheets as part of a discovery process and then guide you and your spouse through a series of discussions about the outstanding issues, attempting to peacefully resolve things such as child support and custody, alimony and a division of assets.
How much will it cost?
When you file for divorce, you are required to pay a filing fee of $175 and an $80 judgment fee. You must also pay a fee to have your spouse served as well. This may run anywhere from $25-$50 or more based on the method you use. Depending on the county where papers are filed, there may also be some added miscellaneous costs as well.
It may be possible to obtain a fee waiver if you get need-based public assistance or you are too poor that you can’t afford the fees. You will need to file a Waiver/Suspension of Fees and Costs form with the court to make this request. Be prepared to document your lack of resources or income. The court will review your request in about a day or so and then either grant or deny your request.
If there are any unresolved issues regarding your divorce, you can expect to pay an attorney legal fees that will range from $200 to $500 per hour depending on how complex your divorce is and how many hours it will take to resolve those issues. You will also need to pay some sort of a retainer upfront to start the process.
If you decide to use a mediator or an arbitrator, expect your costs to be somewhere between $3,000 and $7,000, and possibly more. In some cases, a judge may require a couple to go through mediation as part of the divorce process.
Fully contested divorces can run into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on how contentious the divorce is, what kind of assets are involved, and how much disagreement there is with child custody and support issues.
How long does it take to get a divorce in Michigan?
An uncontested divorce in Michigan can be granted in Michigan in as little as 60 days if no children are involved. When children are a part of the proceedings, a divorce cannot be granted until a minimum of six months have passed.
You must also make sure you meet the residency requirement for a Michigan divorce. You must be a resident of the state for at least 180 days immediately prior to filing. You also have to be a resident in the county where you file for at least 10 days prior to filing as well.
Contested divorces or divorces where negotiations must take place regarding custody, alimony, child support and a division of assets will increase the time frame that it takes to reach a settlement. It is not uncommon for some high asset or hotly contested divorces to take as much as one to two years or more. Much of the duration depends on your personal circumstances.
Working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
Every divorce has financial issues that need to be addressed. In some cases, a family law attorney can provide all the information you need.
But if you have a degree of financial complexity, you should consider working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA).
A CDFA can help you understand the long-term impact of your decisions so you can weigh the pros and cons. In fact, working with a CDFA can actually lower the cost of your divorce (by giving you more clarity to make decisions which cuts down on the back-and-forth negotiations).
Is bifurcation of marital status allowed in Michigan?
Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally divide their divorce into two stages. The first part satisfies the grounds for the divorce. The marriage is terminated at that point. It also means that the financial aspects of the divorce such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or that have become major sticking points will be finalized at a later date.
The downside of bifurcation is that it can result in two trials and more expenses and if a spouse is looking for a fresh start more quickly, bifurcation can hold one spouse hostage at the whims of the other.
Michigan is one of the handful of states that does not allow bifurcation. All issues in the divorce must be resolved before a divorce in the state can be finalized and each person can claim legal single status. For this reason, couple often choose mediation or arbitration as a way to work out their differences before filing in court.
Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Michigan?
The bottom line is that if someone wants to get a divorce in Michigan, a spouse cannot stop them from doing so.
However, if a divorce petition has been filed, and both spouses agree that they made a mistake, it is usually possible to stop the process, especially early in the proceedings.
A dismissal form can be requested from the county clerk where the petition was first filed at any time before a final judgment has been entered. If no response to the original petition has been filed, then the petitioner alone can file the dismissal form. If a spouse has already filed a response, then both spouses will need to sign the dismissal form.
What is a divorce decree?
A divorce degree is a legal document that establishes proof that a divorce is final in Michigan. It is signed by a judge and dated by a county clerk, formally ending a marriage.
The decree is also a summary of the rights and responsibilities of each party, including financial responsibilities and a division of assets. it also covers child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues.
What is a divorce certificate?
A divorce certificate has much less information than a decree. It usually only names both spouses and the date and place of a divorce, but nothing else.
A divorce certificate provides proof that a couple is no longer married and can be used as proof to effect a name change on certain documents such as a driver’s license. It may also be used to provide proof that a person is single in case they want to get married again.
Michigan Vital Records issues copies of divorce certificates, but they are typically not available until at least 90 days after a divorce takes place. Anyone in Michigan is eligible to request certified copies of Michigan divorce records.
For more information on how to obtain a divorce certificate, contact Michigan Vital Records at (517) 335-8666.
Changing Your Name
You will be presented either an option to restore your former name or request a court order for changing names when preparing your divorce forms.
The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You may either receive a separate court order making your name change official, or else have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Either of these documents are accepted with all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.
Just because you have a court order does not mean your name change has taken effect. You need to contact all your organizations to request your records are updated.
It’s time-consuming to contact each company and figure out what to send where, so we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to cut out the 10+ hours of research and paperwork that follows.
Recommended Divorce Resources
There are a whole lot of divorce resources that promise great results. We’ve tested a bunch of them, and most fall short of our expectations.
A few stand above the rest.
These are the tools and resources we’re excited to share with you because we know they can help you have a better divorce.
If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:
- Online divorce
- QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
- Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
- Co-parenting apps
- Online Dating
- Personal finance and budgeting apps
- Best place to sell your engagement ring
- And a whole lot more