Experienced Legal Counsel for Clients throughout Western Michigan
I believe that your lawyer’s first job should be to respond effectively to your family’s needs — not react to specific situations that may cause you concern. I have helped hundreds of people get through the divorce process as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. Like any legal matter involving the courts, divorce isn’t always clean and easy.
The truth is, many people come into the process expecting more than what the courts will allow or more than what they are entitled to under the law. I will be honest and upfront about your case so that you will not be surprised by the outcome.
My goal is to keep you focused on your family’s long-term needs. Our primary objective is to preserve your family environment for your lifetime after divorce.
Every divorce is different, and I will not use a one-size-fits-all approach. The same pattern of facts and circumstances in one divorce in Kent County may result in a completely different outcome in front of a different judge in Ottawa County. Even in the same county courts, we expect different judges and referees to make different decisions.
Your divorce will require patience.
The main frustration most people have in divorce is the length of time it takes to work its way through the court system. No attorney or judge is able to shorten the time frame. In fact, in cases involving children Michigan imposes a mandatory six-month waiting period. It is likely your case will take up to a year if you have children. Nevertheless, throughout the duration of your case, we will be honest and clear about ways you can improve your position for the best possible settlement or judgment.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is Almost Always the Better Solution
Most divorce settlements in western Michigan county courts are mediated, negotiated, or done through the collaborative process. Studies have shown that people who craft their own settlement are far more likely to follow the agreement. Furthermore, this leaves you in charge of the outcome of the case. Specifically, you can tailor custody and parenting time to your particular needs and those of your children. Your property division should be based on the decisions you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse make for your family.
However, in the event your case does not settle in ADR, I am prepared to aggressively fight to protect your rights and financial interests in court — but only as a final option.
The “Fault Line” and Michigan
Michigan is a “no fault” divorce state. However, this is a misleading term. The term “no fault” refers only to the fact that a person does not have to allege fault in the breakdown of the marital relationship in order to obtain a divorce. Instead, there is only one element of proof necessary to obtain a divorce; “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.”
Fault does play a role in the division of marital assets and in determining if there will be an award of spousal support and what that amount of spousal support would be in a particular case. However, do not expect to be awarded all or most of the assets based on fault. In most cases involving fault, the “non-guilty” party will only receive a 2 to 3 percent shift in marital assets. Fault is only one factor out of many for a judge to decide when dividing property.
In Michigan, property division must be equitable, just and reasonable. Generally, property falls under two broad headings.
- Marital property: Defined as property (and debt) that is accumulated through the joint efforts of the parties during their marriage. This includes any increase in net worth that may have accrued between the beginning and the end of the marriage. Generally, the courts strive for an equitable split of the value of assets and debt, but this does not necessarily mean everything will be divided 50/50.
- Separate property: Includes property owned by one of the spouses prior to the marriage, gifts given to one party alone, and assets inherited by one party alone. However, if separate property is commingled with marital property during a marriage, it may be subject to division. In addition, any increased value of the separate asset may be subject to classification as marital property, if the non-owning spouse was actively involved in investing or improving the property value during the marriage.
Other Forms of Dissolution of Marriage
Michigan is also a state that allows for separate maintenance. The procedure for this is relatively the same as in a divorce matter, except that neither party may remarry.
Michigan also provides for annulment proceedings, which will invalidate a marriage. Marriages may be void from the inception or voidable depending on the circumstances. The grounds including capacity to marry, such as insanity, bigamy, and underage parties, or any type of fraud that goes to the heart of the marriage.