Ninth Judicial Circuit Court
FRIEND OF THE COURT HANDBOOK - DOMESTIC RELATIONS PROCESS
A person wanting to end his or her marriage must have a circuit court judge enter an order ending the marriage. To grant the divorce, the court must find that there has been a breakdown in the marriage relationship to the extent that the parties cannot live together as husband and wife. At least one of the parties must appear in court to show that this breakdown exists. In Michigan, a divorce can be granted even if one of the parties does not want the divorce.
A divorce ends the legal relationship between a husband and wife. The divorce does not end the parental relationship, even though the relationship will change. Many decisions must be made before a divorce is granted. These decisions may include:
- Who will make the major decisions for the child? (legal custody)
- How much time will children spend with each parent? (physical custody and parenting time)
- How should the property gathered during the marriage be divided? (property settlement)
- How will financial responsibilities for the children be divided? (child support)
- What amount, if any, should one party contribute toward the support of the other, either permanently or temporarily? (spousal support/alimony)
- How will the children's medical, dental and other health care expenses be paid? (health care insurance and financial coverage)
- Will the wife take back her maiden name? (restoration of maiden name)
- Will children be allowed to move from the State of Michigan? (domicile)
- Will the custodial parent be allowed to move the children more than 100 miles from their current place of residence? (legal residence)
Divorce issues may be resolved in the following ways:
- The parties may be able to reach an agreement by themselves or with the help of their attorneys.
- Mediation is available through the FOC and private agencies to resolve the issues of custody and parenting time. In the Ninth Circuit, mediation of contested matters is the usual practice.
- A domestic relations referee may hear the issues and make a recommendation to the judge.
- The judge may help in settling a matter by having a pretrial or settlement conference.
- The judge will hold a hearing or trial on the issues that have not been resolved.
Copies of all papers filed in a case must be given to the court clerk at the Gull Road Justice Complex by the person bringing the action or by his/her attorney. Court rules require that the FOC be provided with a copy of any legal paper and a proof of service of all papers filed in a domestic relations matter. The person bringing the action must provide an extra copy for the FOC to the court clerk. Custody, parenting time and child support recommendations will be made by the FOC upon order of the judge.
Ex Parte Orders
(Orders entered by the court without a hearing)
Sometimes a judge will immediately enter a child support, parenting time or custody order upon the request of one of the parties. This happens if the judge is convinced that a serious need exists, or that serious harm may occur if the order is not entered immediately. This order is called an ex parte order. If the other party disagrees with the ex parte order, after the judge signs the order, that party must file a written objection to the order asking that the order be changed or canceled.
The ex parte order must contain a notice that the other party is allowed to file a written objection or motion to change the order within 14 days. If a party wants to file an objection and the FOC cannot help the parties to resolve the dispute, the FOC can provide forms and instructions to assist the other party to file the objection.
The ex parte order must also state that it will become a temporary order if no written objection or motion is filed within 14 days. If a motion is not filed within 14 days, the order automatically becomes a temporary order. This order is also modifiable by the court but different, more demanding standards apply.
After the complaint has been filed, matters such as temporary custody, parenting time, amount of child support, and in some cases, spousal support (alimony), need to be decided. Either party or in some cases, the FOC or the Prosecutor, may file a motion with the court asking for orders. If a hearing before a referee or judge is scheduled, the party who schedules the hearing must follow the provisions of Michigan Court Rules and notify the other party of the time and place. At the hearing, each party can present his or her position to the court.
The decision made at that hearing by the court is written down by one of the attorneys or parties. This is given to the judge for entry (signing the order), and made an order of the court. For more information on ex parte and temporary orders, see Michigan Court Rule 3.207.
NOTE: Only a judge can enter orders or judgments; a referee can hear motions, but can only recommend orders to the judge. An order does not become effective until a judge signs it.
Not every divorce matter that is started ends in divorce. If the parties are attempting to work out their differences and wish to have enforcement of their court orders suspended, they must file a motion with the court and obtain an order to suspend automatic enforcement of support. A support order cannot be suspended or dismissed except by court order. Forms are available at the FOC office to assist parties who wish to suspend enforcement of support and who are representing themselves.
If a domestic relations matter is filed with the court and no further action takes place, the court clerk will place the case on the no progress calendar and it will be dismissed after a period of time passes.
If the parties have resolved their differences and wish to stop the divorce action, they must file an order of dismissal with the circuit court and provide a copy to the FOC. Plans to pay any back child support owed to the State of Michigan must be made with the FOC.
Judgment of Divorce
A judgment contains the orders of the court concerning support, parenting time, custody, property division and other related issues.
For divorces with no minor child(ren) there is a sixty-day waiting period (starting from the date of filing the complaint) before a judgment can be entered. For divorces where there are minor children there is a six-month waiting period before a judgment can be entered.
After the waiting period is over the judge may grant a divorce. Once a judgment has been entered, parties must comply with the provisions of that judgment. The judge can change some of the sections in the divorce judgment after it has been entered.
If a party is dissatisfied with the judgment, he or she may wish to contact an attorney to see if it can be changed.
Modification of a Judgment
After a judgment has been entered in a divorce action, there are some orders that can be modified (changed). These can include: custody, parenting time, support, and domicile. A change can occur if:
a) both parties sign an agreement (stipulation and consent order), file a petition requesting and explaining the reason for the change, and the court enters an order granting a change;
b) a motion or petition is filed, a hearing is held, and the court enters an order granting a change.
The FOC has a responsibility to petition the court in certain circumstances for the modification of child support (see section on Modification of Support Orders).