Grounds for Divorce in Michigan

Michigan is a no-fault divorce state which means that, unlike many other states, there does not have to be a specific justifiable cause for one or both parties to initiate a divorce. The only standard required for a divorce in Michigan, is covered under MCL 552.6(1), which requires one or both parties to allege that “…there has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.”

State of Michigan divorce statute chapter 552 showing the legal grounds of divorce

State of Michigan divorce statute chapter 552 showing the legal grounds of divorce

The party who files for the divorce is known as the plaintiff, and with the other spouse being the defendant. The plaintiff cannot state any other reason than the above requirement as a grounds for a Michigan divorce, nor can they provide any more detail of why they are requesting the divorce. The defendant may either admit or deny the allegations of the plaintiff, however even if the defendant admits to the plaintiff’s claim, a divorce judgment in Michigan may not be entered until evidence is presented in open court. Once the evidence presented shows that there has been a breakdown in the marriage relationship, the divorce judgement can take place which officially ends a valid marriage in Michigan.

In order for a court to grant a Michigan divorce judgment, it must have jurisdiction over the two parties, and the residency requirements must be met, which are listed in the Michigan Legislature. According to MCL 552.9(1):

“(1) A judgment of divorce shall not be granted by a court in this state in an action for divorce unless the complainant or defendant has resided in this state for 180 days immediately preceding the filing of the complaint and, except as otherwise provided in subsection (2), the complainant or defendant has resided in the county in which the complaint is filed for 10 days immediately preceding the filing of the complaint.

(2) A person may file a complaint for divorce in any county in the state without meeting the 10-day requirement set forth in subsection (1) if all of the following apply and are set forth in the complaint:

(a) The defendant was born in, or is a citizen of, a country other than the United States of America.

(b) The parties to the divorce action have a minor child or children.

(c) There is information that would allow the court to reasonably conclude that the minor child or children are at risk of being taken out of the United States of America and retained in another country by the defendant.” (Michigan Legislature, 2017, Section 552.9)

Frequently Asked Questions on Grounds for Divorce

There is a lot of confusion surrounding legal aspects involved in a divorce. Particularly on what the grounds for divorce are and what implications this will have on parenting time. As experienced divorce lawyers, here are some of the most frequently asked questions on this topic.

What if one spouse is out-of-state for a Michigan divorce?

If one spouse is a Michigan non-resident, there are two different alternative basis for obtaining the proper authority for a court to grant a divorce in Michigan:

  • The defendant must be “domiciled” in Michigan when the complaint for divorce is filed
  • The defendant was domiciled in Michigan when the cause for divorce occurred
  • The defendant was personally served in Michigan, was served by publication, has voluntarily appeared in the action, or has been served with a copy of notice for appearance and an order for publication in Michigan or elsewhere

In addition to this, there are a number of other factors as to when a court can exercise jurisdiction over a party depending upon that party’s contacts with the State of Michigan.

Q. What are ex-parte and temporary orders during a Michigan divorce case?
These are orders entered by the court during the pendency or at the beginning of a Michigan family law case. An ex-parte and a mutual restraining order in Michigan usually seek to preserve assets such as avoiding the cancellation of insurance, withdrawal of retirement accounts, cancellation or excessive charging of credit cards, selling stocks/bonds and other financial instruments, utilities or the change of beneficiaries of certain policies.

These are usually used in emergency situations, with the other party not given any notice prior to the order being entered. These orders should be used with caution, due to their often negative impact on the attitude and demeanor of the other party. Because of this, it is strongly recommended that these issues be resolved by other means if possible.

A temporary order in a Michigan case can cover a number of different things in divorce proceedings. These typically include issues surrounding custody, parenting time, use of marital residence, child support and spousal support. They may also include legal related concerns, such as attorney and expert witness fees and referral to the friend of the court.

A request for a temporary order can be made at any time during the pendency of the case that sets forth facts supporting the relief requested. If a Michigan court grants a temporary order it is in effect until modified or until the final judgment of divorce is granted. It is possible that the final judgment will simply preserve the temporary orders making them final.

Q. What if one spouse is in the armed forces? How does this affect a Michigan divorce?
If one spouse is in the armed services (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard) for a Michigan divorce, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act will apply to the case. The purpose of this act is to allow servicemembers to devote their attention to defending the country, and not put them at a disadvantage when responding to civil suits like a divorce.

The act will grant an automatic stay of 90 days and prohibits a court from taking certain actions. The one exception to this automatic stay is for support, which allows a hearing to be conducted without the presence of the service member. The service member may file a motion within a time limit to set aside any support order upon returning from service. It is important to inform your Michigan divorce lawyer if your spouse is a member of the armed services.

Q. What if two spouses file for a Michigan divorce at the same time?
The outcome of this will depend on where the two parties will file for divorce. If parties file for a divorce in two different counties in the State of Michigan, the first court to obtain jurisdiction will hear the case. Each county clerk uses a timestamp when someone files for divorce and the complaint with the earliest timestamp will be the Plaintiff.

If different states are involved, either state would be able to hear the case. Which one is chosen more often than not is a matter of which is the most convenient for both parties. However if minor children are involved the home state of the child will determine which state is the right state.

Q. Is separate maintenance the same as a divorce in Michigan?
In Michigan, an action for separate maintenance is filed in the same manner as a divorce. However a judgment for separate maintenance only provides for the property rights of the parties, support issues, custody issues and retirement benefits and does not dissolve the marriage of the parties. This type of action can be useful if the party wishes to get clarity on these issues, and is not yet ready to dissolve the marriage.

The defendant may counterclaim as separate maintenance filing, asking instead for a divorce. In fact, either party may file an amended complaint during this process asking for a divorce. In Michigan a divorce cannot be granted prior to the waiting period of 60 days without children, and 6 months with children. The majority of separate maintenance complaints are amended to be divorces or are dismissed because the parties have agreed to stay together.

Q. Can a woman get back her old last name in a Michigan divorce
If a wife wishes to take back her former last name as part of a Michigan divorce, this request may be included as part of the divorce proceedings. While there are alternative methods to get back a former last name, some people find it more convenient to make it part of the divorce.

Q. What if the defendant fails to respond to my filing for a Michigan divorce?
When a defendant fails to respond, the plaintiff may seek a default judgment in Michigan. The defendant either has 21 or 28 days to respond depending upon how they were served with the divorce. The defendant may file to have the default judgment set aside for good cause.

Q. Will a referee or judge hear my Michigan divorce case?
In Michigan, the chief of the Circuit Court may direct certain family law matters to be heard by a referee. A referee may hear any motion in Michigan except for a motion pertaining to an increase or decrease in spousal support. A referee can hear a variety of issues, including but not limited to:

  • Child support
  • Family support
  • Spousal support
  • Custody
  • Parenting time
  • Paternity
  • Property settlements
  • Name change
  • Objections to income withholding

Q. Does it matter if I file first for a Michigan divorce?
Yes. By filing first for divorce in Michigan, it will allow you to determine certain scheduling, selection of topics, and set the tone for the case with pre-trial motions and highlight significant issues and facts to be reviewed by the court. If the case goes to trial in Michigan, the person who files first will be the plaintiff which gives them the ability to present their evidence first, also provides them with an additional rebuttal closing argument. The other party is the defendant and as such isn’t afforded these extra privileges.