Innovative Law Services

Family Law

Respectful Resolution of Family Conflict

Family Law Practice Areas


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Divorce

Divorce is often a stressful time for everyone involved. We provide guidance and detailed instructions to help make sure our clients know what to expect next. When possible, we promote alternative dispute resolution methods. The goal is to construct reasonable and respectful solutions that all parties can accept to move forward and have closure. However, we understand that circumstances arise that make litigation inevitable. 

In some cases, a third-party decision is required from the Court or an Arbitrator to prevent bullying tactics or unreasonable proposals. A trial is typically the last resort when pending issues cannot be resolved directly through negotiations, meetings, mediation, shared neutral experts, collaboration, and teamwork. Being organized and prepared for trial helps with negotiation and achievement of the best terms possible.

An overview of the traditional divorce case involves:

  • Complaint for Divorce & Summons along with filing fee of $175.00 for cases without minor children and $255.00 with minor children

  • Discovery process to determine all marital assets and separate assets

  • Mediation may be court-ordered after the case is filed or early-stage mediation before filing documents with the court

  • Proposals for settlements and separation agreement terms are negotiated

  • Parenting class and Friend of the Court sessions for cases with minor children

  • Court documents to finalize the process such as the Judgment of Divorce are submitted to the Judge for review and approval at the final hearing

 

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Divorce Mediation

Mediators may assist with a variety of issues, including child custody, parenting time, spousal support, child support, retirement plans, and property distribution. By working with a neutral mediator, ground rules are established to help remain focused on resolution.

Mediation:

  • Resolves issues to help bring respectful closure to the marriage or other legal family disputes amicably and cost-effectively.

  • Confidential and offers many benefits, including a more private and comfortable office setting, separate rooms when necessary, and typically less formal evidence requirements.

  • Saves time, money, and helps reduce the emotional cost to each party compared to traditional litigation with most cases.

  • Beneficial to help create co-parenting relationships.

  • May be scheduled with or without attorneys present after proper screening for domestic abuse and any imbalance of power.

  • Timing may include one or more sessions, depending on how many issues require resolution.

  • Sessions may be scheduled before the case is filed with the court or after the complaint for divorce has been filed.

More on the benefits of Mediation

 

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Child Custody

Legal custody of a child means having the right and obligation to make decisions about a child's upbringing, such as education, religion, and medical care. See MCL 722.27a(9). It is also important to note provision (11):

During the time a child is with a parent to whom parenting time has been awarded, that parent shall decide all routine matters concerning the child.

In Michigan, most cases are resolved with joint legal custody.

Joint Custody (Shared Custody) - Both parents share physical or legal custody. This can be by consent or order of the court when parents cannot resolve custody matters together. Joint custody does not mean that parents will share equal parenting time. See MCL 722.26a(7)

Sole Custody – This is when one parent has sole legal custody and/or sole physical custody of a child. In some cases, continual conflict and lack of communication may require modification of a shared custody arrangement based on the best interest factors, See MCL 722.23. It is much easier to award the change a child’s domicile (move from Michigan) when a parent has sole legal custody.

Agreements for custody may be complicated, especially when parents place the children in the middle of high conflict. Whether you are recently separated or have a case that needs modifications, please contact us for more information for a customized plan to meet your needs.

 

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Child Support

Child support creates a more equitable environment to help raise children with more similar environments at each parent’s home. Custodial parents may use child support for household bills or specific items for the children (without having to provide any spending reports). Child support is modifiable based on a change of circumstances (i.e., unemployment, additional income, a new child). Child support is not taxable income to the person receiving support. The parent paying support is known as the payer, and the parent receiving support is known as the payee. When calculating child support, it is helpful to gather the following information:

  • Income (based on current pay statements and tax statements)

  • Applicable monthly childcare costs

  • Health insurance premiums per month paid toward the children’s coverage

  • Tax status (single, head of household, etc.)

  • Any additional children from other relationships

The State of Michigan provides a Child Support Calculator at the following link: State of Michigan Child Support Calculator

The Michigan Child Support Formula Manual is available at the following link: Michigan Child Support Formula Manual

If you would like assistance with calculations for child support and spousal support based on your case specifics, please contact our office.

 

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Parenting Time

Parenting time may be flexible or based on a specific schedule. This schedule includes alternating holidays, school breaks, and summer vacations. If parents cannot agree on a plan, the Judge has to assign parenting time based on analysis of the best interest factors. As the case starts to escalate, the Friend of the Court will typically investigate to determine how the considerations apply to each parent. Next, the Friend of the Court will provide a recommendation on custody and parenting time. If either parent disagrees with the FOC proposal, then objections are filed for the Judge to determine the parenting schedule after an evidentiary hearing. See below for MCL 722.23 “Best interests of the child” factors to be considered, evaluated, and determined by the court (Child Custody Act of 1970):

(a) The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.
(b) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and raising of the child in his or her religion or creed, if any.
(c) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other material needs.
(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
(e) The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
(f) The moral fitness of the parties involved.
(g) The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.
(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
(j) The willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent or the child and the parents.
(k) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.
(l) Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

 

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Spousal Support / Alimony

Courts will grant spousal support when there is a discrepancy in income between each spouse. In most cases, spousal support is determined by agreement after review of income versus expenses along with other determining factors listed below. Most attorneys review support calculations generated by family law software programs to help determine a starting point for discussion. Typically, income, tax status, education, age, and the length of the marriage determine this amount. It is beneficial to prepare a budget during the divorce process to review cash flow needs compared to the division of income. It can also be requested when the property awarded to one of the parties is not sufficient to support them. The agreement for spousal support may be non-modifiable as to the amount and duration or a combination. A modifiable amount for a specific time if the parties agree to waive their statutory right to modify support, for example. Spousal support is modifiable if the court determines the spousal support award based on “the ability of either party to pay and the character and situation of the parties, and all the other circumstances of the case.” MCL 552.23(1) In Michigan, there are multiple factors that the judge will consider when deciding an award for spousal support, also known as alimony, including:

  • Past relations and conduct of the parties

  • Source and amount of property awarded to each party

  • Needs of the parties

  • The present situation of the parties

  • Length of marriage

  • The ability of each party to work

  • The ages of each party

  • How able to pay alimony are both parties?

  • The health of each party

  • Prior standard of living of the parties

In Michigan, there is not a set formula that can be used by the Judge to determine an arbitrary amount for spousal support. Every case has unique factors, including the Judge assigned to the case. Contact us for any questions you may have regarding spousal support.

 

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Paternity

Paternity is the legal establishment of a child's father. Unlike the child's biological mother, the father's identity can sometimes be more challenging to determine. Typically, paternity comes up in child support cases. However, a parent may also want to establish custody or pursue healthcare, inheritance, and adoption. Another way to establish paternity is a signed Affidavit of Parentage, see the following link for more information: Affidavit

In Michigan, the mother has initial custody of the child when an affidavit of parentage (AOP) in place. However, a father may move for a custody determination without demonstrating change in circumstances or proper cause. After the AOP is file, either parent is able to file a custody case to ask for a court order to determine child support, custody, or parenting time.

Just like any family matter, paternity cases have emotional and financial impacts. Paternity cases can often be complicated, so schedule a consultation with our office to learn more about the paternity process.

 

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Amicable or Uncontested Divorce

Amicable divorce means that both spouses have reached a signed written agreement on all the key terms for the divorce process. This includes such matters as child custody and parenting time, child support, the equitable division of the marital assets, applicable spousal support terms, and all other marital disputes.

If you or your spouse disagree about any of the terms, your divorce will be considered "contested." Contested cases may be resolved with the court’s assistance or an arbitrator. However, it is essential to note that you may still agree at any time before the judge issues a final order. Uncontested divorces will save time and money compared to contested divorces with multiple trips to court. We typically resolve an amicable (or uncontested) divorce with a single trip to court.

 Divorce, whether contested or uncontested, can be a stressful time for all involved. Contact us today for assistance with the divorce process.

 

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Marital or Nuptial Agreements

Nuptial agreements, also known as prenups, are legal documents that a couple signs as a contract before becoming legally married. These agreements are used to address such matters as spousal support, division of assets, future income, and retirement benefits.  A prenuptial agreement is signed before the couple is married while a post-nuptial agreement is signed after marriage. Typically, prenuptial agreements are more enforceable in the eyes of the court and post-nuptials, which may be considered against public policy in Michigan. Therefore, when working on divorce agreements, it is essential to carefully craft the separation agreement based on the correct circumstances if signed before filing the divorce case with the court.

If you have questions about marital agreements, it is helpful to discuss case specifics with an attorney so that you understand your rights and options. Mediation and collaborative practice typically offer a more respectful and positive method for these types of discussions. Contact us today to learn more about your existing marital agreements and how it impacts the divorce or separation process.

 

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Equitable Distribution

Michigan is an equitable distribution state. This means that when couples cannot agree on a settlement, the judge decides how to divide marital assets and debts after an overall analysis of the case specifics. Equitable does NOT mean equal, but rather what is deemed “fair” by the judge. Unfortunately, there is not a specific formula that can be used to determine award amounts for each party. Still, there are some common factors that judges will use to make their decision based on case law. (See Sparks v Sparks, 440 Mich 141 (1992), and applicable statutory law) These factors include:

  • The length of the marriage

  • The contributions to the marital property

  • The age and health of both parties

  • The needs and circumstances that are facing both parties

  • The life status of each party

  • The earning potential of each spouse

  • The past conduct of both parties

 It is essential to understand all the factors to help resolve property division. If you have questions or need legal help, please contact us to learn more.

 

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Change of Domicile

A change in domicile comes into play when a custodial parent wants to move to a new residence that is either 100 miles away or to a different state. In either case, the custodial parent will need the assigned Judge's permission to move according to the terms of a court order. The 100-mile rule is based on distance, such as how the crow flies, not the total mileage driven by road. Thus, either parent that moves more than 100 miles must obtain the Judge's approval. There are a few exceptions to the 100-mile rule, however:

  • The other parent agrees to the move

  • One of the parents has sole custody

  • The parents were already living more than 100-miles apart when the case started

  • The move results in the less distance between the parents than before the move

A parent must file a motion with the court before the move if he/she wants to move outside of Michigan. Even with sole custody, a parent must still obtain a court order to verify the terms of the move out of Michigan. If the move resulted in a change of custody, the Judge would have to determine if the move would be in the best interests of the child(ren). In Michigan, the best interest factors are analyzed along with the D'Onofrio test factors, including:

  1. whether the prospective move has the capacity to improve the quality of life for both the custodial parent and the child;

  2. whether the move is inspired by the custodial parent's desire to defeat or frustrate visitation by the non-custodial parent and whether the custodial parent is likely to comply with the substitute parenting time orders where he or she is no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of this state;

  3. the extent to which the non-custodial parent, in resisting the move, is motivated by the desire to secure a financial advantage;

  4. the degree to which the court is satisfied that there will be a realistic opportunity for visitation in lieu of the weekly pattern; and

  5. domestic Abuse.

There are many reasons why a parent may want to move – being closer to family, safer community, better jobs, or better schools, to name a few. Whether you need assistance with a motion to change domicile or responding to a motion filed by the other parent, we are here to help.

 

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Separate Maintenance

Separate maintenance is for couples that can no longer live together but do not want to get a divorce. Therefore, the couple would still be legally married after the separation. These types of judgments can be used for spousal support, child custody, child support, and property division. This option is common for religious reasons. There are potential downsides to a separate maintenance judgment, however.

  • Separate maintenance judgments may constitute as a "life event" that could allow insurance providers to end or deny your coverage.

  • The male spouse may be considered the legal father of any new children born to the wife, even if he is not the true biological father.

  • You may not marry another person unless you first get divorced.

  • Estate planning becomes more complicated.

Like a judgment of divorce, a separate maintenance agreement will separate finances and assets as though the parties were divorced. Both parties must agree to separate maintenance. If you file a complaint for separate maintenance, your spouse has the option to file a counterclaim for divorce. If this happens, the court will proceed with the divorce process.

 

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Annulment

Annulments treat the marriage as though it never happened. Marriage annulments are increasingly rare but are still an option when the required legal grounds are met. To qualify for an annulment, typically, one of the following requirements must be applicable:

  • Consent - One spouse could not legally give consent due to age or mental impairment (or the influence of drugs or alcohol).

  • Coercion – One spouse coerced the other into getting married from threats or force.

  • Fraud - One spouse makes false statements, and the other spouse agrees to marry based on a belief that the assertions were true.

  • Bigamy – The act of going through a marriage ceremony while already married to another person.

It is more challenging to be granted an annulment compared to a divorce. With annulled marriages, any marital rights are terminated.

 

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Enforcement of Court Orders

The Friend of the Court (FOC) and the Michigan State Disbursement Unit (MiSDU) are responsible for helping to enforce custody & parenting time provisions along with child support orders. A motion (written request) is required to enforce the terms of a court order. Additionally, you will need other related court forms such as a Notice of Hearing and Proof of Service based on the Michigan Court Rules. The most common method to enforce support orders is ordering an employer to withhold funds from a parent’s paychecks (also known as the payer). Other child support enforcement options include:

  • Liens against property

  • Reports to credit agencies

  • Withholding tax refunds

  • Suspending a driver's license & passport denial

  • Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) entered to award payment from retirement funds

  • Enforcing payment by issuing sanctions, awarding attorney fees, and ordering jail time

It is important to note that child support and parenting time are NOT conditional. A parent may not withhold support payments due to lack of parenting time. Additionally, a parent may not refuse parenting time for the other parent due to the delinquency of support payments. In either case, a complaint may be filed with the Friend of the Court to ask for assistance with enforcement. Felony non-support prosecution may also be available based on the fact of the case.

Typically, issues may be resolved without trips to court. However, it may be necessary in some cases to seek help from the court, such as child support enforcement.

 

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Property Settlements

A divorce requires division of all marital property. In some case, separate assets may also be divided by the court. Typically, any assets acquired after the wedding ceremony will be split during the divorce process. Depending on the length of the marriage, property owned by either spouse before the marriage may be considered separate property unless it was commingled during the marriage. When dividing assets, the first step is to determine marital property compared to separate property.

Marital property typically includes income earned during the marriage and other assets acquired during the marriage such as retirement accounts, pensions, real estate, investments, vehicles, stock options, household contents, and personal property. Interestingly, the account title does NOT determine whether an asset is separate or marital property. Conversely, credit card debt could be considered marital or separate property depending on how the debt was acquired. Marital property and debts are typically divided equitably. Still, the Judge has discretion based on various factors to help decide how the marital estate is distributed. Factors that may influence a judge's decision include:

  • Contributions during the marriage and the length of the marriage

  • Domestic abuse, dissipation of assets, or if one spouse is responsible for incurring debt

  • The reasons for the breakdown of the marriage

Please contact us if you would like to schedule a consultation regarding your property settlement situation.