|Starting a divorce case in Michigan has historically required the filing of a “Complaint for Divorce,” brought by one spouse, “the Plaintiff,” against the other, “the Defendant.” That changes on April 1, 2019.
Starting then, if a divorcing couple is using the Collaborative Divorce process, pre-filing mediation, or have otherwise reached agreement on all necessary terms of their divorce, they can start their divorce case by signing and filing a “petition” titled “In the Matter of Party A and Party B.” No summons will be issued, telling the Defendant that he or she “ . . . is being sued.” No process server, delivering documents with a “You have been served” message will be necessary. That can remove much unproductive “heat” from a divorce; the divorce process is difficult enough without it.
A divorcing couple may even now start a case, to establish jurisdiction, while they continue negotiating, outside of court, their divorce terms. Other changes were made to give effect to Michigan’s version of the Uniform Collaborative Law Act, and to include a provision to request the shortening of the 6-month waiting period, if the parties have reached an agreement on terms. You can see the changes to the Michigan Court Rules, including the addition of MCR 3.222 & MCR 3.223 here.
The “old way” of “Ellen G. Smith vs. John J. Astor” suggested to some that airing your marital grievances to the Court can somehow change those things about your spouse which make your differences irreconcilable. Anyone who has entered that realm likely understands that courts do not “fix” marriages; traditional court processes do not encourage thoughtful resolutions. But, a court order is required to dissolve the legal bonds of matrimony, to divide your assets and debts, and to decide at whose home the children will sleep on which nights, if the spouses are unable to come to an agreement.
If one or both of the spouses view the divorce process as a means to redress perceived wrongs, then these alternative approaches will not work. But, if you and your spouse are able to agree to use an alternative process to decide those questions working together, these changes to Michigan’s divorce procedures could benefit you. Using Collaborative Divorce, mediation, or even “kitchen table” divorce agreements, couples can now minimize the involvement of the court and associated expense.
Using these alternatives does not require that you have already reached an agreement on everything; it requires that you, and your spouse, agree to a process, a method, to eventually agree to those terms. If a divorce is necessary, and you would like to work with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse to decide these issues more quickly, outside of court, and in most cases, at less expense than a “traditional” litigated divorce case, then these procedures could give you a structure to do so.
Getting married is, by virtually all measures, much easier than getting divorced. But, if you are able to use them, all of these alternative approaches involve less tension, less acrimony, and often less time and expense. As a result, they produce stronger, more long-lasting results for couples who are restructuring their lives through divorce.
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Rosi & Gardner, P.C.
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