The Great Lakes State is considered to be among the jurisdictions in the country where marriages last the longest. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that the average duration of marital unions in Michigan is 22 years. Despite this figure, there are still couples in the state who suffer an "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage" and end up filing for divorce. According to the CDC, the state recorded a 2.3% divorce rate per 1,000 people in 2021, up from 2.1% in 2020.
While Michigan is a no-fault divorce state, some of the most common reasons couples end up separating are infidelity, substance abuse, financial difficulties, and excessive fighting. The Institute for Family Studies also found that marrying too young can be a contributing factor in divorce cases.
If you are considering filing for divorce against your spouse or if you have been served with divorce papers, this article can help you understand the state's corresponding rules and processes. Through this guide, you can also access useful resources regarding the legal ordeal and learn about various groups that can help you deal with the emotional consequences of divorce.
Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Separate Maintenance in Michigan
People marry for love and companionship. However, after months or years, some married couples choose to end their relationships for various reasons. In 2021, data showed that there were four divorces for every 10 marriages across the country.
For spouses who intend to terminate their marital union but do not want to go through the divorce process, the state offers alternatives in the form of annulment and separate maintenance. The table below outlines the differences between these options.
Way to End a Marriage
This refers to a legal marriage’s termination. Divorcing couples go this route if they believe their marriage cannot be saved anymore.
Through this process, a court can annul or cancel a marriage if something is illegal or unfair from the beginning. Grounds for annulment include the following:
A party was deemed incompetent to give consent to the union.
A party is legally married to another living person.
One of the parties was too young to get married.
Both parties are close relatives.
One of the parties lied to get the other party's agreement to marry.
Alternative to Divorce and Annulment
This is an option for married couples who intend to continue their marriage but live separately. Under this process, the involved parties will also need to resolve issues such as property division, child custody, and visitation.
Is Michigan a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
Yes, the Great Lakes State is a no-fault divorce state. It means any person can file for divorce without having to accuse and prove that their spouse is at fault for the breakdown of their marital relationship.
Nevertheless, while a person is not required to establish fault in order to obtain a divorce, a judge can consider their spouse's fault or behavior during the marriage when deciding on property division or spousal support.
How to File for Divorce in Michigan
Proper awareness of the divorce process and the documents required is crucial for divorcing spouses, given how complex this legal undertaking can be. In this section, you can find pertinent information on the steps to follow when filing for divorce in Michigan.
Determine Your Eligibility for Divorce
Before you can file for divorce in the state, you must confirm whether you or your spouse have lived in Michigan in the past 180 days and in the county where the complaint will be filed in the previous 10 days.
Note that the 10-day requirement will be automatically waived if the defendant (or your spouse) is not a U.S. citizen or was born in another country. Another situation where this applies is if you have a minor child or children at risk of being brought and held in another country by your spouse.
Prepare the Required Divorce Documents
Once you have fulfilled the residency requirement, you may now prepare a divorce complaint for either a contested or an uncontested divorce, along with the necessary supporting requirements. You must ensure that your complaint contains the following information:
The names of the parties before the marital union.
Each spouse's address for service.
Each party's telephone number.
Each spouse's email address.
Whether you have minor children born during the marriage.
Ages of the children born of the marriage.
Any ongoing pregnancy.
Factual grounds for the action (either fault-based or no-fault-based).
Assets to be divided.
File the Divorce Complaint Paperwork
When you have completed the required documents for your divorce complaint, you need to file it with the Family Division of your county's Circuit Court.
Serve and Wait for a Response to the Divorce Complaint
You, as the plaintiff, must serve the summons to your soon-to-be ex-spouse, who is the defendant, within 91 days after filing the divorce complaint in order to avoid your case getting dismissed.
It is important to note that you are not allowed to serve the papers yourself. You may request the assistance of a relative, a friend, the local sheriff or police department, or a process server. Whoever you choose to serve the summons must personally deliver or mail them using certified mail to your spouse, fill out the Proof of Service, and submit the proof or give it to you for filing.
The defendant has 21 days from the date they received the summons to agree with or deny the claims in your divorce complaint. They may be given up to 28 days if the papers are delivered via mail or if they are out of state The defendant’s response will determine whether your case will become contested or uncontested. In case your spouse doesn't respond, you may request an order of default, which will make the divorce uncontested.
Undergo the Discovery Phase
When your case starts, your divorce lawyer must assess which issues are likely to be contested and gather relevant facts through discovery and investigation. When needed, they must also seek assistance from experts, such as psychologists, accountants, and appraisers.
Finalize the Divorce Process
A divorce is not complete when there is no signed divorce decree. Before the case is finalized, you and your spouse will need to negotiate and agree on various matters through an informal settlement meeting. Your divorce case may also be resolved through mediation or litigation.
If your divorce ends up in court, you and your spouse will need to present arguments and evidence in a series of court appearances where a judge will decide on child custody, child support, spousal support, and property distribution.
How Property Is Divided in a Michigan Divorce
When you or your spouse file for divorce, the marital property accumulated during your marriage should be fairly divided under the theory of equitable distribution. These properties include real estate, cars, furniture, retirement plans, and investment accounts, as well as debts. In case you and your soon-to-be ex-partner fail to decide on how to divide your assets and debts, a judge will make the decision for you. Some of the factors they will need to consider are:
How long you have been married.
The reason behind your divorce.
How much you contributed to the marital estate.
Your and your spouse’s age and health.
Your standard of living during the marriage.
Your financial needs, other necessities, and current living circumstances.
Your earning capabilities.
You and your spouse may also own separate properties that you acquired individually before your marriage or received as an inheritance or gift during the marriage. In this case, the sole owner of an asset can typically keep it after the divorce. However, separate property can be divided due to either of the following situations:
The other party contributed to the acquisition, improvement, or growth of the property.
The other spouse's marital property share is insufficient to meet their needs or demands.
In Michigan, divorcing spouses should also agree on an equitable division of their debts. Like in the case of assets, these exclude separate debts that each party incurred before their marriage.
To understand the complicated process of asset and debt division in divorce, you may consult with an experienced attorney.
Michigan Divorce FAQs
This section answers some of the most frequently asked questions about the divorce process in Michigan. For legal advice on divorce, you may also seek counsel from a divorce lawyer in your area.
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Michigan
Divorce can be a painful experience for the spouses involved, and navigating the entire process can be stressful and emotionally draining. If you have filed for a divorce petition or have been served with divorce papers but are uncertain about the next steps you should take, this section lists some resources that can help you gain clarity and assistance in different forms.
The State Bar of Michigan operates an LRIS to help citizens with legal issues, including divorce, connect with qualified lawyers. The service collects an administrative fee of $25, which will cover a 25-minute initial consultation. If a person decides to pursue seeking the assistance of a lawyer, they can negotiate attorney fees with their chosen lawyer.
For additional information about the program, you may call (800) 968-0738 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., from Monday to Friday.
This online platform offers tools that can help you understand and manage your legal issues. It also has a self-help resource library you can use if you are going through a divorce. You can access information and articles on how to file for divorce with or without minor children, respond to a divorce complaint with or without minor children, and transfer real property as part of a divorce.
Through this website, you can easily access vital records, such as marriage and divorce records, from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. VitalChek is a Michigan state government-authorized service provider.
The Women's Center offers various initiatives and information for women who are in the process of ending their marriage. This nonprofit organization oversees the Going Solo Support Group, a therapist-facilitated program dedicated to helping women cope with long-term separation or divorce. It also runs a family law and financial education program, a two-part workshop series that provides information on how to deal with the effects of the divorce process.
DivorceCare assists people in recovering from the trauma caused by their divorce. The organization's support groups guide divorcing spouses or splitting households on the road to healing. The DivorceCare program involves a 13-week video series. There are recovery support groups assigned to various cities across Michigan that conduct weekly meetings.
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