If you have made the difficult decision to file for divorce from your spouse, you are probably both nervous and curious about the way your divorce case will work, and how it will move through the system. Our family law office has handled divorce matters in Michigan for over 60 years, and it is with this experience that we can provide you a brief overview regarding how filing a divorce claim works in the family court system. Should you have any questions or concerns about your specific situation, please contact our office for a consultation.
Meeting with a Michigan Divorce Lawyer
The first step is to meet with a divorce attorney to discuss your case. Your attorney will review the facts of your case, and based on that information, will work with you to draft a Complaint. The Complaint will lay out the basic facts of your marriage and the grounds for divorce.
Your attorney will also work with you to determine whether you are eligible to file for divorce in Michigan, and the proper county in which to do so. Michigan law states that to be eligible to file a divorce claim in Michigan, you must have resided in Michigan for at least 180 days, and within the county where your suit is started for at least 10 days. If you do not meet these requirements, the Court will not have the power to grant your divorce.
Filing the Complaint
Once your complaint is prepared, the lawsuit for divorce will be initiated by filing the complaint, along with a summons, with the Court Clerk for the Family Court in your county. The Family Court Clerk will validate the Summons and return the Summons and Complaint to your attorney so that they can be “served” on your spouse.
It is necessary that a copy of the Summons and Complaint be “served” upon the Defendant. There are numerous ways of properly serving these papers. Traditionally, these papers were delivered by a sheriff, but more “civil” methods of serving these documents on your spouse are now typically used. Arrangements can be made for service by asking the opposing party to pick up the papers, by delivering the papers to the other party and having them sign an acknowledgement, or by a number of other methods which aim to prevent additional hostility.
You should understand that there is a filing fee which must be paid at the time your summons and complaint are filed with the Court Clerk. Additionally, there may be fees required by the Friend of the Court and out of pocket fees required for the filing of motions and other proceedings. Throughout the case, fees may also be incurred for travel (if necessary), expert witnesses, deposition costs, appraisals, and the like. These costs are in addition to the attorney’s fees.
The Defendant Spouse’s Answer
After the Complaint, Summons, and other documents are served, the Defendant may choose to file an answer to the Complaint. An answer is, in effect, a paragraph by paragraph response to the Complaint.
Once the answer is filed, the case is considered contested. If the Defendant fails to answer the Complaint after the Complaint is served, an order of default may be entered, indicating the Defendant’s lack of response. If this occurs, the matter becomes an uncontested divorce case. In addition to answering the complaint, the Defendant may also choose to file his or her own Complaint against the Plaintiff. This is known as a Counter-Claim and this must be answered by the Plaintiff.
Determining whether Trial is Necessary
Once your case has been filed, there are a number of ways that it may move through the system. How your case tracks through this system will largely depend on the facts of the case and the issues being contested.
If the divorce is uncontested, or if the parties have reached a settlement, the Court will simply enter the judgment and issue a record of divorce. If there are disputes about issues in the divorce, such as child support or the division of property, the Court has a number of options. The Court may require the parties to undergo domestic relations mediation, or it may ask the Friend of the Court to get involved in the matter and help to reconcile the differences.
If the case is still unable to be resolved, the Court will conduct a trial and determine any disputes in the matter.