Divorce is the legal process for dissolving a marriage, and encompasses division of the marital estate, determination of incomes for purposes of child and spousal support, and creation of custodial arrangements that are in a child’s best interest. Under Michigan state law, the court must find that there has been a breakdown of the marital relationship to the extent that there is no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved. When there are no children involved, a divorce can be granted in 60 days. When minor children are involved, that minimum time period is extended to 180 days. While Michigan is a “no-fault” divorce state (meaning that you are not required to prove your spouse is at fault in order to be divorced), Michigan courts may still consider fault as one of many factors when deciding the division of property, spousal support, or attorney fee awards, and may also be a factor in custody and parenting time.
For unmarried parents, establishing paternity is an essential first step in securing and protecting the child’s future. Legal parentage generally must be established before a custody order and parenting plan is put into place and prior to the determination of child support. Parentage can be established through a Declaration of Parentage (a form that can be signed at the time of birth, or after), an agreement between the parents, or by a court order. The court generally has the authority to order genetic testing in cases where paternity is disputed. Once parentage has been established, paternity cases are treated much like custodial issues in a divorce case.
The term “custody” involves the care and upbringing of children in paternity matters or following divorce, and encompasses both legal and physical custody. “Legal custody” involves each parent’s right to make decisions regarding their children’s education, health, religion and other important issues. It also includes the right to access information such as the child’s school or medical records. Generally, the parents will share joint legal custody, but there are circumstances warranting legal custody to be granted to only one parent. “Physical custody” is a term referring to the allocation of the daily physical parenting time and responsibilities of children. Sometimes physical custody is awarded to the parent with whom a child primarily resides, but often parents will share physical custody regardless of the particular day to day parenting time allocation.
Formerly referred to as visitation, parenting time is the day-to-day schedule that allocates the days, holidays, weekends, and general time each parent has with the children. It is the hope of every court and family law practitioner that the parents can work together to create a parenting plan that is best for the children. Unfortunately, this does not always happen, and it is important to have an experienced attorney to provide guidance through the process of creating a plan that will be best for the children. Although there are various fixed parenting plans often put in place, each parenting plan is dependent upon the unique facts of the case and a unique plan should be put into place to meet a family’s particular needs.
Change of Domicile:
Under Michigan law, parents who share joint legal custody of their children cannot move their residence more than 100 miles away from the other parent without that party’s consent or the approval of the court. Change of domicile requests can include those parents wishing to move more than 100 miles from the other parent, as well as a parent’s request to move to another state or country. Statutory factors exist which must be reviewed by the court when considering change of domicile requests and in making determinations that are in the best interests of the children involved.
Child support is intended to assist a parent with the financial support of raising a child who is under the age of 18, or 19½ if a full time high school student. In Michigan, child support is determined by a Michigan Child Support Formula which can include many factors, including but not limited to, each parent’s income, the parent’s respective custodial timeshare, possible imputation of income to one or both parents, reasonable child care, health care, and investment or rental property income. Child support is modifiable when circumstances change and therefore can, and should, be reviewed periodically. A parent who fails to pay his or her child support obligation, or remain current, faces significant penalties, including, but not limited to, suspension of professional or business licenses, suspension of driver’s and recreational licenses, and potential jail time.
Spousal Support (Alimony):
Spousal support (also known as alimony) is financial support that one spouse pays to another to enable the recipient to become financially independent. Unlike child support, Michigan courts have no uniform mathematical formula for calculation of spousal support. Spousal support may be awarded to a party pending a judgment of divorce, or until death or remarriage, depending on a variety of circumstances such as length of marriage, needs of the parties, ability to pay, and health and age of the parties. Spousal support issues may also arise after judgment of divorce, such as an action to enforce an order for payment of spousal support, or an action to modify an order of spousal support if support is made modifiable in a judgment of divorce and the circumstances triggering modification arise.
Pre-Nuptial or Post-Nuptial Agreements:
For many couples, one of the most important marriage plans that can be made is the creation of a financial plan for protection in the event of divorce. Prenuptual agreements are common in second marriages involving those who have children from prior relationships, those who have built investment or retirement funds, or those with family assets or future inheritances. With these and many other circumstances, it can be essential to contemplate how assets will be characterized or divided, for example, in dissolution of marriage. It is important for the document to be prepared by an experienced professional in order to withstand a possible future scrutiny test.
Post Judgment Proceedings:
After divorces are final, certain issues can arise involving children, including custody and parenting time, child support and other financial issues such as health insurance, medical expenses, and child care which may be reviewed after the Judgment has been entered. Spousal support may also be reviewed after entry of the Judgment, as noted above. Modification of support or custody, or enforcement of the support and custodial orders are common post-judgment matters that arise in the family law context.
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