The vast majority of Michigan divorces—probably upwards of 95%—do not end in a trial. Most are settled, often through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) such as divorce mediation or Collaborative divorce. Settlement is usually preferable, as long as the spouses can bargain fairly in order to reach an outcome that they (and their children) can live with.
Unfortunately, there are some situations in which settlement is just not in one spouse’s, or the child’s, best interest. If there is a severe power imbalance between the spouses, such as in a domestic violence situation, it may not be possible to negotiate a fair divorce settlement. Similarly, if one spouse is experiencing untreated mental illness or substance abuse issues, or poses a danger to the children, negotiation may not be a viable option. Other divorces that can be difficult to settle include those involving significant assets or where there is a high level of conflict between the spouses.
In those cases, a litigated divorce may be the only choice for bringing a conclusion to the divorce process. Litigation is usually more costly and more time-consuming than an early settlement. But remember: your divorce judgment, which is the court order that legally ends your marriage, is the “private law” governing your divorce from that point onward. You will have to live with it for a lifetime, so it is worth doing whatever it takes to make sure that it is fair and that it meets you and your child’s needs.
There are some minor variations in the divorce process from within the different counties throughout Michigan, but overall, here is how a litigated Michigan divorce unfolds:
One spouse files for divorce in the Circuit Court for the county in which they live. That spouse is called the plaintiff. The documents that the plaintiff files to start the divorce case include:
In addition to these required documents, there are also optional documents that may be filed at the beginning of a case based on the particular needs of your situation:
Once these documents are submitted to the court, along with a filing fee, they need to be served on the other spouse, who is called the defendant. Your spouse may be willing to sign a document saying that they received the divorce papers. If not, you will probably need to have the papers delivered to them by a process server. Your spouse will then have a chance to file an answer to the allegations in your complaint.
The court will schedule a case management or pre-trial conference, which will be your first court hearing. If you have children, you may also have a meeting scheduled with the which helps the court manage child custody, parenting time, and child support issues. In addition, the parents will likely have to attend a program on co-parenting.
The court will give you and your spouse time to complete discovery, which involves asking each other for information or evidence relating to the divorce. As of January 1, 2020, the first step in the discovery process is that the parties must exchange a Financial Information Form within 28 days of the defendant filing their answer with the court. Other methods of discovery may include interrogatories (written questions to be answered), requests to admit, requests for production of documents, or depositions (in-person questioning by the other spouse’s attorney).
In most cases, the court will order you and your spouse to mediation to try to settle your case before your scheduled settlement conference at the court. If you have reached a settlement with your spouse, your divorce can be finalized at the settlement conference.
If you have not reached an agreement, then a trial will be scheduled where each party will present their evidence accumulated during discovery, and each party will call their own witnesses to testify. The importance of being properly prepared for trial cannot be overstated. Your presentation to the court at trial will be limited to the information that you obtained through discovery during the first part of your case. It is important to note that you will not be successful if you just bring an attorney in to handle the presentation at trial; they need to manage the entire litigation process, even if you settle your case in the end as most couples do. At the end of your presentation to the court, the judge will make a final and binding ruling regarding the remaining issues in your divorce that you and your spouse presented evidence on during the trial.
Choosing an attorney for your litigated divorce can be a challenge. You certainly want an experienced family law attorney. You also want an experienced trial attorney who understands the advantages of settling a case, but who will always keep his eye on preparing the case for trial should that be necessary. The truth is that since most divorce cases settle, many family law attorneys do not properly prepare their cases to go to trial if that is what is needed for their client. This can result in attorneys encouraging their clients to take deals that do not represent the best outcomes that the client could have received.
Attorney Sean Blume is an experienced trial attorney who has devoted his career to helping children and families. He also has extensive experience in the types of challenging and high-conflict divorce cases that are most likely to go to trial. Sean understands that the more a couple fights, the higher the legal fees go. That may benefit the attorney, but it doesn’t help his clients. Sean prioritizes the well-being of his clients and their children. Even when a divorce must go to trial, Sean focuses on minimizing conflict while advocating effectively for a favorable outcome.
We represent Michigan divorce clients in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and St. Clair counties. We invite you to contact Blume Law Group to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to working with you.