If you’ve never been through a divorce before, the realities of the process will understandably be unfamiliar to you. If you are considering divorce and trying to learn about how a Michigan divorce works, you may get advice from friends, family members, your hairstylist, or someone at the gym. There’s a pretty good likelihood that some or all of what they tell you about the divorce process is just completely wrong.
Myths about divorce in Michigan can cause people to make decisions or take actions that may wind up hurting them. That is why it is so important to speak with an experienced Michigan Family Law attorney as soon as possible if divorce is contemplated. Your lawyer can tell you the truth about how divorce works and bust the many myths about divorce.
Here are 10 of those myths that are widely believed but simply not true:
1. Visitation can be denied if my ex doesn’t pay child support.
There is a process for enforcing child support obligations, but threatening or denying a parent visitation with their child is not one of them. In short, access to the children and parenting time are not related to the payment of child support.
2. Commit adultery, lose everything.
Will cheating on your spouse lead to divorce? Maybe. Will being unfaithful mean that you’ll lose your kids, your home, your assets, and your rights? Nope. In and of itself, adultery will not mean that you lose anything. But adultery can be considered, as one factor among many, by the court in determining what distribution of your assets is equitable.
3. Divorce can be denied.
When you file a divorce case, you are actually asking the judge to grant you a divorce. But that doesn’t mean the judge can deny your request or that your spouse has to sign off on granting you a divorce. If you want a divorce, you probably will get a divorce. As long as you meet the residency requirements and will be able to testify that “there has been a breakdown of the marital relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved” the court should grant you a divorce. It does not matter if your spouse agrees that the marriage can not be saved. Once all the financial, custody and visitation issues have been resolved at settlement or trial, a divorce will be granted.
4. Mothers always are awarded custody of the children.
While there still is some inherent bias in favor of mothers, the law has evolved along with changes in society to reflect that both fathers and mothers can be custodial parents. Decisions about custody and visitation will be made based on what is in the best interests of the child, and that depends on circumstances and characteristics that have little to do with gender.
5. You can avoid paying child support.
Child support payments in Michigan are established by law. The court will look at facts such as the number of overnights, each of your respective incomes, health insurance, and daycare expenses (among other facts) to calculate child support pursuant to the child support guidelines. Parents are not able to bargain away their children’s right to support; therefore agreements that call for neither parent to pay child support are very risky and are often set aside by the court or modified upon either parent later requesting support for the children.
It is possible to deviate from the child support guidelines provided that you outline the reasons that you are deviating from the guidelines, put the process of deviating from the guidelines is no longer as simple as it once was.
6. Children get to pick who they live with.
If a child has expressed a preference as to which parent they would like to live with, a judge may take it into consideration as one of the many factors guiding their determination as to custody. However, they are not required to follow a child’s choice and will make their custody decisions based on what is in the best interests of the child. With that being said, typically the order the child is and the better the child is doing in school the more weight the court will place on their preference.
7. Divorce always leads to battles.
Divorce can often be acrimonious and full of hostility, blame, and finger-pointing. But it doesn’t have to be. I would estimate that over 70% of my cases are resolved by settlement rather than by a final decision of the Judge.
8. Equitable distribution results in equal division.
Property division in a Michigan divorce is governed by principles of “equitable distribution.” What is “equitable” in a given divorce is not necessarily the equal division of assets. Property can be and often is divided in a non-mathematically equal manner based on the many factors that go into a judge’s decisions about property division.
9. Women always get maintenance and men never do.
Decisions about spousal support, just like custody decisions, no longer are based on outdated prejudices and reflect the fact that women can earn more than their husbands. Decisions about spousal support are based on the economic realities of the respective spouses regardless of their gender. Michigan does not have any type of set Spousal Support formula and you will find that the judges in the area have vastly different opinions on when and how much spousal support should be awarded. It is important to contact an attorney who understands your judge’s position when it comes to spousal support.
10. Most divorces go to court.
While you have to file papers with the court in order to get a divorce in Michigan, that doesn’t mean that there will be a trial, or that you or your children will have to testify in court, or that there will be lengthy and expensive court battles. If the parties can reach agreement on all issues, the divorce could be granted on the settlement agreement. Many divorces in Michigan are resolved without a trial or without the parties ever stepping foot in a courtroom (outside of placing statutory proofs on the record).
If you are considering a divorce or have a family law issue contact our office and we will be happy to address your preconceptions about divorce and family law issues