Frequently Asked Questions

Click one of the categories below to see just answers to frequently asked questions about that topic. Or scroll down to see all of our FAQs.

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It is impossible to list all the questions and answers relating to a divorce or custody action.   Even the “answers” above might be different in a particular case—and every day, the Michigan Legislature and the appellate courts of the state are passing new statutes and deciding new cases which impact family law.

As a result, the information above is not a substitute for advice from a competent attorney.

In some cases, an attorney is just part of a team that will be needed.  Other members of the team could include therapists, accountants, appraisers, private investigators, tax specialists, bankruptcy experts, realtors, and educators.   

How does a Michigan divorce action get started?

By filing a complaint in the circuit court.

Are there requirements for filing a Michigan divorce complaint?

You have to be a resident of Michigan for 6 months and of the county in which you file for at least 10 days. Either the plaintiff or the defendant can meet this requirement.

How much does a divorce cost in Michigan?

The filing fee for a divorce with minor children is $230, and the filing fee for a divorce with no minor children is $150. The filing fee for a custody action (where the parents were never married) is $150. The attorney fees vary with the complexity of the case and the success of negotiations. Most divorces will cost between $2,500 and $5,000 in any case. A highly contested divorce could cost ten times that ($20,000 to $50,000) or more. That is one of the reasons that mediation and compromise are so attractive. Court appearances alone can cost between $1,000 and $3,000 for one day.

How long does it take to get a divorce in Michigan?

There is a mandatory six-month waiting period to get a divorce if you still have any minor children and a two-month waiting period if there are no minor children (or if you never had children). Sometimes cases take a long time to resolve; however, the Michigan Supreme Court wants the trial courts to finalize divorce cases within a year, but highly contested cases can take longer.

Can one attorney represent both spouses in a Michigan divorce?

Most attorneys will not represent both spouses. It is possible, however, for one of the spouses to hire an attorney and then for that attorney to do the paperwork. The other spouse would just represent himself or herself (which is called “in pro per”) in that case.

The other option is for the two spouses to hire a mediator who would help to negotiate the case.  That mediator could then draw up a proposed agreement to be incorporated in the judgment of divorce.  Mediators suggest that an attorney review the agreement for each individual party before it is signed.

Most attorney-mediators are familiar with the law that applies to divorces and custody actions, and he/she would probably be willing to explain the options that are available to resolve custody, parenting time, child support, property and debt division, and spousal support issues.

Signing an agreement is not the end of the divorce action.  A judgment of divorce must be entered by the court.   The mediator may, or may not, be willing to draft a judgment of divorce.  If an agreement has been signed, any competent attorney could draft a judgment of divorce that incorporates that agreement.

Does it matter if I move out of the house?

In today’s world, the courts no longer consider a move out of the former home as “abandonment.” If there is a risk of domestic violence or if the children are exposed to considerable conflict, it is better to separate as soon as possible.

Despite the fact that the courts no longer consider it “abandonment” if one party moves out of the marital home, minor children may experience the move as an abandonment.  The ideal is to have a written agreement about parenting time or a court order for parenting time before moving out of the house when there are minor children.

Will I be taxed if I liquidate my share of my spouse’s retirement?

You will be taxed at your own rate if you liquidate the account. If this is your spouse’s account, however, you will avoid the 10% penalty if you liquidate the account before you are 59 ½ years old.

How is property distributed in a Michigan divorce?

There are factors that govern the distribution of property in Michigan during divorce:

  1. duration of the marriage;
  2. contributions of the parties to the marital estate;
  3. age of the parties;
  4. health of the parties;
  5. life status of the parties;
  6. necessities and circumstances of the parties;
  7. earning abilities of the parties;
  8. past relations and conduct of the parties;
  9. general principles of equity.

The court starts by requiring the parties to identify all the property of the marital estate. Excluded from that is property that a party owned prior to the marriage and retained in his/her own name as well as gifts and inheritances.

The next step is to evaluate the property. If the property is like-new and recently acquired, then the cost at the time of purchase might still represent the value. Often, the parties can actually agree on a value. Other times, the parties obtain appraisals from third parties or agree to a joint appraisal. If property that is owned individually actually appreciated during the marriage through the active efforts of one or both parties, then the court can include the amount of appreciation but not the underlying value. The parties have to remember to subtract any indebtedness associated with the property and just consider “net value.”

As an aside, if there is a pension or retirement fund that was acquired partly during the marriage and partly before the marriage, the court includes only the portion that was earned during the marriage. This is called the “coverture fraction.”

Some appraisals are a little challenging, as with start-ups or small companies.  A certified public accountant is usually engaged to appraise business interests, including stock options.

The last step is to sell or distribute the property. If it is sold, the parties usually split the net proceeds of sale. If it is distributed in kind, then the parties keep track of the value that is associated with that asset to be sure that, in the end, the final distribution of all property and debt is fair.

This approach would not apply if the parties had a pre-nuptial agreement that was enforceable.

Can I also ask the court to modify the property division after the divorce has become final?

The only grounds for modifying a property division after the divorce is final are grounds relating to fraud, mutual mistake, failure to disclose property or debt, and similar issues.  Even then, a party has one year at the latest to file a motion to amend the judgment of divorce in most circumstances.  If a case has gone to trial and there is a judgment from the court, one option is to file a motion for reconsideration if the judgment is unacceptable.  The second option is an appeal to the Court of Appeals, which must be filed within 21 days of entry of the judgment.  Timing is everything.

How do I know if I will receive or be ordered to pay alimony?

There are some computerized formulas that attorneys use to get an idea of whether you will owe alimony and if so, how much and for how long. These formulas are not binding on the court like child support guidelines are.

The court considers the following factors in making a decision as to whether to award alimony:

  1. The past relations and conduct of the parties;
  2. The length of the marriage;
  3. The parties' ability to work;
  4. The source of an amount of property awarded to the parties;
  5. The age of the parties;
  6. The parties' ability to pay alimony;
  7. The present situation of the parties;
  8. The needs of the parties;
  9. The health of the parties;
  10. The parties' prior standard of living and whether either is responsible for the support of others;
  11. General principles of equity.

The main purpose of alimony is to balance the incomes and needs of the parties in a way that would not impoverish either party. There is no sense of “entitlement” when it comes to alimony.

If the court decides to award alimony, it must then consider the following factors in deciding the amount of alimony:

  1. The duration of the marriage;
  2. The contributions of the parties to the joint estate;
  3. The age of the parties;
  4. The health of the parties;
  5. The parties' station in life;
  6. The necessities and circumstances of the parties;
  7. The earning ability of the parties.

Some courts are unwilling to award any substantial amount of alimony unless the parties have been married for 10 years or more. Shorter marriages may warrant some form of “rehabilitative alimony.”

In Michigan, parties can agree to an award of alimony that cannot be modified.  The court itself cannot put these limits on alimony, but the parties can and then the court will enforce it.

If alimony is “barred” at the time of the divorce with regard to one of the parties, then the court cannot later award alimony to that party.

Alimony is the same as spousal support.  The words “spousal support” are preferred these days.

Will I be able to get part of my spouse’s retirement or pension account?

A Michigan court can award the retirement or pension account of one spouse to the other in a divorce using a “qualified domestic relations order” or an “eligible domestic relations order.” This order, signed by the judge, orders the plan administrator to divide the account as instructed (e.g., 50/50) and then the one spouse (e.g., the wife) will become part owner of the other spouse’s (e.g., the husband’s) account. In this example, if the husband cannot draw on the account until he is 55 years old, then the wife must wait until the husband is 55 years old to take her own share. His eligibility criteria applies to her—and it is his age and years of service that count, not hers.

If retirement monies are in an IRA (individual retirement account), a judgment of divorce with specific terms can be used to distribute the IRA.

Can I tape record my spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend?

In Michigan, you can tape record any conversation in which you are participating without the other person’s knowledge or consent.

Can I have someone follow my spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend?

You cannot personally follow a person. That is stalking. A licensed private investigator, however, can keep someone under surveillance.

Can I put a tracking device on my spouse’s or boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s car?

The Michigan Legislature recently made this a felony.  There are some exceptions in the statute, and you should consult an attorney about this.

What is a PPO?

A PPO is a personal protection order that protects a person against domestic violence or stalking.

How do I get a PPO?

There are forms available through Michigan courts to petition for a PPO. You fill out the form and file it with the court. If the allegations are serious enough, the court will enter a PPO immediately and send a copy to the Sheriff’s Dept. so that the police will know the PPO is in effect. The person against whom you obtained the PPO has 14 days to contest it.

Will the court frown on me if it discovers that I am in therapy or have been in a psychiatric ward?

The court will frown on you more if you need mental health services and refuse to accept them. In today’s world, receiving therapy is commonplace.  See resources on our web site for a list of resources in the Ann Arbor area.    You can always ask your attorney or your primary care provider (i.e., doctor) for a list of therapists in the area.  If your insurance company requires you to go to someone on their list, then ask your attorney or doctor to review that list.

Will the court frown on me if it discovers that I am an alcoholic or drug addict?

The court will not frown on you if you have an addiction; however, if you are in denial or refuse to enter a recovery program, that could have serious consequences.  There is a list of resources on our website.

My spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend says I have an anger management problem. Will that hurt me?

Anger issues concern the court. If you have problems in your relationships (e.g., at work, at home, and with your family of origin), you may have an anger management problem. If you go to the website for Catholic Social Services in Washtenaw County you will find a tab at the top for “counseling,” and under that tab, you will find “alternatives for domestic aggression” (ADA).  Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County has a questionnaire on its site that will help you determine whether you would benefit from their ADA program.   You do not have to be Catholic to enroll in this program.

You probably have an anger management problem if that is something other people are talking to you about; if you have put a hole in a wall out of anger; if your driving is affected by your feelings about other drivers; if you throw things when you are mad; and if you tend to scream and swear when you are upset.

What kinds of child “custody” are there in Michigan?

There is physical custody and legal custody.

What is physical custody?

Physical custody involves where the children live and what the parenting plan (or visitation schedule) is. If parties have similar amounts of time with the children, they have “shared physical custody,” even if it is not exactly 50/50. If one party has significantly more time with the children than the other parent, that parent has “primary physical custody” or “primary physical possession” of the children.

There is a trend towards not characterizing a parenting plan as “primary” physical custody since that may make the other parent feel marginalized.  In many judgments, the parenting schedule is defined, but it is not “characterized.”

What is legal custody?

Legal custody is the right to participate in major decisions affecting the children, such as whether or not to have surgery, whether or not to attend a private school, whether or not to get therapy or counseling or an abortion. Legal custody usually involves issues regarding third parties such as the doctor, the teacher, or the therapist.  The court must actually use the words “sole” legal custody or “joint” legal custody.

Is there a chance that the courts would split the children up?

Yes.  The courts can award what is called “split custody,” which means that one or more of the children live with one parent, and one or more of the children live with the other parent.  In these cases a typical arrangement would be to have the children with their respective custodial parents during the week, and on the first and third weekend all children would be with one parent, while the second and fourth weekend all children would be with the other parent.  This allows for the siblings to spend time together.

Split custody may be a solution in some or all of the following situations:

            a.         neither parent has the ability to care for all of the children at once;

            b.         there are problems between one or more of the children and a          particular parent;

            c.         a child has special needs, and that requires a substantial amount of time and energy;

            d.         there are problems between some of the children; and/or

            e.         one of the children is involved in an activity that requires a substantial amount of time and energy (such as some athletic, musical,  or other endeavor).

 

Split custody is very rare.

What does “joint legal custody” mean?

Joint legal custody usually means that the parents must: 

  1. have equal access to health, educational and legal information about each child;
  2. be listed as “parent” on the school enrollment forms, emergency cards, etc.;
  3. keep each other appraised of any child’s affiliation with a church, religious or spiritual group or of a parent’s intent to affiliate a child with a church, religious or spiritual group; and
  4. come to joint decisions on:
    1. response to life-threatening health conditions or health conditions that threaten a long-term negative effect on a child’s quality of life;
    2. major elective surgeries;
    3. body-piercing;
    4. drug therapy;
    5. emotional, behavioral, or mental health treatment or assessment;
    6. major changes in the religious, oral, or philosophical values being taught to the child;
    7. change in the type of schooling (e.g., public to private) and/or daycare;
    8. skipping one or more academic grades;

 

Joint legal custody would normally entitle each party to receive timely copies of the child’s report cards and current school photographs.

It would entitle parties to be informed of parent/teacher conferences and activities (including sports) and/or school programs to which the children and parents are invited to attend. 

Note: MCLA 722.30 provides as follows:

"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a parent shall not be denied access to records or information concerning his or her child because the parent is not the child's custodial parent, unless the parent is prohibited form having access to the records or information by a protective order. as used in this section, "records or information" includes, but is not limited to, medical, dental, and school records, day care providers records, and notification of meetings regarding the child's education. "

Accordingly, a parent does not need to have joint or sole legal custody to have access to school and health records.

If I was never married to the parent of my child, will the court still decide the issue of custody?

Yes. Michigan has a Child Custody Act that contains a list of best interest factors. This is used to decide custody where people have never been married to one another. If people have been married, then there is a divorce statute that includes provisions for property distribution and alimony. Interestingly, the divorce statute refers people back to the Child Custody Act for the list of best interest factors, so the issues are the same in custody matters whether the parents were ever married or not.

How is custody decided?

Michigan courts apply what is known as the “best interests test.” It has the following 12 factors:

  1. The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.
  2. 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.
  3. The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care recognized or permitted under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other material needs.
  4. The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
  5. The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
  6. The moral fitness of the parties involved.
  7. The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
  8. The home, school, and community record of the child.
  9. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
  10. 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.
  11. Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.
  12. Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

Who decides how to apply the best interest factors?

There are many ways that legal custody is decided in Michigan. First, a party requests what he or she wants in the complaint for divorce or the answer to that complaint.

If legal custody is disputed, or physical custody is disputed, the court usually refers the case to the Friend of the Court.

The Friend of the Court meets with the parties individually or jointly and may interview the child(ren) if he/she/they are old enough (generally 6-7 years old or older). The Friend of the Court evaluator may also talk to teachers, friends, family members, and other parties in the course of the investigation as well as reviewing report cards and other documents that are either requested or supplied by the parties themselves. Before the interview, the parties are given forms to complete which contain information that is necessary.

After reviewing the information, the Friend of the Court evaluator issues a recommendation. If both parents accept the recommendation, then the court can consider entering an interim order which converts the recommendation into an interim order of the court. If one or both parties reject the recommendation, then the court holds a hearing to determine the next step. At the hearing, the court could adopt the recommendation if it is consistent with the status quo or hold an evidentiary hearing to decide what the legal and physical custody should be during the pendency of the case. The court could also decide to send the case to a Friend of the Court “referee” for a hearing. The referee is an attorney employed by the Friend of the Court to preside at these hearings, which take place in a conference room of the Friend of the Court.

At a referee hearing, the parties are present as well as their attorneys. Witnesses can be called, but they are asked to remain in the hallway until it is time for them to testify.

After the referee hearing, the Friend of the Court Referee issues his/her recommendation, and the parties have 21 days to accept or reject that recommendation.  If it is accepted, it may be time for the parties to agree to a judgment of divorce which includes the terms of the recommendation.  If it is rejected, then the court will review the pleadings, transcript from the referee hearing or tapes of the hearing, and exhibits to determine whether the referee’s decision should be adopted by the Court.  If there is any evidence that could not be presented at the referee hearing (e.g., evidence of a new source of income or evidence the referee would not consider), then the judge could hold a further hearing in the courtroom.

 

Are my only choices for deciding child custody the Friend of the Court caseworker, the Friend of the Court referee, or a trial before the judge?

No. Actually, the court now has the power to order people into mediation. Mediation takes place in a conference room (either at one of the attorney’s offices, the mediator’s office, or another location—but usually not the courthouse). A trained mediator presides and attempts to help the parties reach a settlement on one or more of the issues in the case. If the parties cannot reach a settlement, then the matter proceeds to trial.

Can parties just agree among themselves about child custody without the need for “mediation?”

Yes. Parties often reach a settlement themselves or with the help of their attorneys. Less than 10% of divorce or custody cases ever go to trial.

As an aside, there are official training programs for mediators.  A person does not need to be an attorney to become a mediator; however, a mediator has to have taken the official training program or get an exemption from that requirement to appear on a court list of available mediators.

It is not “illegal” for someone who is not a mediator and who did not have “official training” to help a couple resolve their differences.  Sometimes this is a friend or family member.  Sometimes this is a member of the clergy or a marriage counselor.  The court is supportive of any respectful and effective means of resolving issues.

What if after my divorce is final I want to change the custody arrangement for my children?

Michigan statutes provide as follows:

"The court shall not modify or amend its previous judgments or orders or issue a new order so as to change the established custodial environment of a child unless there is presented clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interest of the child. The custodial environment of a child is established if over an appreciable time the child naturally looks to the custodian in that environment for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort. The age of the child, the physical environment, and the inclination of the custodian and the child as to permanency of the relationship shall also be considered."

 

During the initial divorce or custody proceedings, the court uses a “preponderance of the evidence” standard in determining who will prevail. This is something like 51% of the evidence in favor of the party seeking custody. Before a court will consider changing custody, a party must allege and prove either that there is “proper cause” for a change or that there is a “change in circumstances,” meaning something more than a minimal or insignificant change.

Then, if a party meets the threshold for changing custody by showing a change in circumstances or proper cause, that party must meet a higher burden or proof known as “clear and convincing.” This is more like 75% of the factors favoring the party seeking custody. In a nutshell, it is a big mistake to settle for one form of custody believing you can just wait for a while and then petition for a change without many of the facts also changing.

The Legislature has concluded that stability for children is an important goal.  As a result, it is very hard to change custody once it has been established.

Who decides the parenting plan or visitation in Michigan?

This is considered by the same people who consider custody, that is, the Friend of the Court, a mediator, or the judge. The same best interest factors are used as are used to determine custody.  Hopefully, the parties “decide” these issues in the end.  The FOC and the FOC referees can only make “recommendations.”  It takes the judge to “decide” an issue if the parties cannot and if the parties (or one of them) rejects a recommendation.

 

What is a typical Michigan parenting plan?

There is no typical parenting plan.  Decades ago, the mothers of young children were generally awarded custody under what was called the “tender years doctrine.”  That doctrine assumed that young children should live primarily with their mothers.  The tender years doctrine has been repealed, and now fathers of young children can be awarded custody.

When the “tender years” doctrine was in effect and for many years afterward, fathers often had visitation every other weekend from Friday to Sunday.  These days, every other weekend often includes a pick-up from school instead of after dinner and a return to school on Monday morning.    That provides three benefits:

     1.  the parent picking up and dropping off at school can have some                              regular contact with the school;

     2.  there are fewer face-to-face contacts between the parents, which                             helps in high conflict cases; and

     3.  the weekend parenting time is expanded by one additional                                      overnight.

 

Many parents also have a mid-week visit, which might include an overnight, and liberal telephone contact.

When parenting time is shared, there are many ways to divide the time, including:

  • every other week
  • two weeks on and two weeks off
  • Monday through Thursday in week #1 and Monday through Wednesday in week #2
  • Monday through Friday in week #1 and the other parent gets the weekend--then switching
  • a 2/2/5 plan where Parent A has 2 days, Parent B has 2 days, then Parent A has 5 days; then Parent B has 2 days; then Parent A has 2 days; and Parent B finally has 5 days in a row.  This pattern then continues.
  • A plan where one parent has the bulk of the school year, and the other parent has the bulk of the holidays, breaks, and summer.

 

Parties can design their own parenting plan.  Often, extracurricular events and work schedules will affect the plan they choose.

 The Michigan Parenting Time Guideline 

Is there a standard schedule for holiday visitation in Michigan?

The Friend of the Court generally uses a standard holiday plan which can change but is likely to look like this:

MOTHER’S HOLIDAY SCHEDULE

 In even numbered years, the mother will have the following holidays:

  1. Easter
  2. Fourth of July
  3. Thanksgiving
  4. Christmas Day noon until noon the next day
  5. Children’s Birthdays

In odd numbered years, the mother will have the following holidays:

  1. Memorial Day
  2. Labor Day
  3. Christmas Eve/Christmas noon Christmas Eve until noon Christmas day
  4. New Year’s Day

FATHER’S HOLIDAY SCHEDULE

In even numbered years, the father will have the following days:

  1. Memorial Day
  2. Labor Day
  3. Christmas Eve/Christmas noon Christmas Eve until noon Christmas day
  4. New Year’s Day

In odd numbered years, the father will have the following holidays:

  1. Easter
  2. Fourth of July
  3. Thanksgiving
  4. Christmas Day noon until the next day
  5. Children’s Birthdays

Holiday Hours

Easter 9:00 am until 7:00 pm
Memorial Day 9:00 am until 7:00 pm
Fourth of July 9:00 am until 7:00 pm
Labor Day  9:00 am until 7:00 pm
Thanksgiving 9:00 am until 7:00 pm
Christmas Eve December 24 from noon until Christmas day noon
Christmas Day   December 25 from noon until noon the next day
New Year’s Day    9:00 am until 7:00 pm
Child’s birthday For a minimum of three hours
Mother’s Day Each year the mother will have Mother’s Day
from 9:00 am until 7:00 pm
Father’s Day  Each year the father will have Father’s Day
from 9:00 am until 7:00 pm

 

The FOC schedule often considers holidays to be “one day” holidays.    Another approach is to have Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day be three day weekends which would then alternate.  Mother’s Day and Father’s Day could be whole weekends. --  Religious holidays can be added to the schedule if they are important to a family.

Long breaks can be alternated as a whole (so that one of the parents could take the children to Florida, for example) or they can be split.  There is much flexibility with regard to holiday parenting time.

Vacations are a separate subject.  When children are young, two week vacations are normally “non-consecutive.”  As children get older, they can tolerate being away from one of the parents for two weeks at a time.  Usually, parents will be expected to exchange proposed vacation schedules by April or May.  If those schedules conflict, a judgment can provide that one parent gets his/her wish in even-numbered years, and the other parent gets his/her wish in odd-numbered years.

Holiday and vacation time generally trumps and supersedes “regular parenting time.”

Who decides how much child support to pay in Michigan?

The Friend of the Court, or the court itself, will require the parties to produce tax returns or verified statements of income. If parties are self-employed, then the court will decide what expenses are justified. If parties are not employed at all, the court will decide if they have “unexercised ability to earn” and then perhaps “impute” the income they could, in fact, earn. Once income is known, then the Child Support Guidelines (a statewide, mandatory computer formula) is applied.

Does the parenting plan affect the child support amount in Michigan?

The formula is based on incomes, the number of children, and the number of overnights primarily. The formula takes into account children from another relationship or marriage that a parent is also supporting as well as mandatory union dues and other fixed costs.

There are a few times that a court will actually deviate from the formula, but not often.

How long does a parent have to pay child support in Michigan?

Child support is owed until a child turns 18 years old or graduates from high school, but in no event beyond the age of 19-1/2 years old.  If the child remains in high school after he/she turns 18, that child must have a reasonable chance of graduating from high school. 

Will I be obligated to pay for my children’s college expenses?

   The court cannot order parents to pay for college or pay "post-majority" support.  If parties agree to this, however, the court can enforce this agreement. 

Where do I pay my child support in Michigan?

It used to be that you paid the local Friend of the Court; however, Michigan now requires people to pay through offices in Lansing. Because support is now collected at a statewide level, the State can distribute payments to numerous payees if a payor has a child in more than one county or subject to more than one court proceeding. If John Doe has 3 children to whom he owes $200/month each but he only makes a $300 payment instead of a $600 payment, then the court will distribute to each mother $100 of the $300 received. This is to avoid Mr. Doe’s attempt to pay more support to one of his children than another. Also, the state now has the ability to enforce child support orders by suspending drivers license's and professional licenses and by putting a hold on bank accounts in which a payor has an interest (whether disclosed or not).

In most cases where a payor is employed, there is an “order of income withholding” entered by the court and sent to the employer.  This order requires the employer to withhold the child support that has been ordered from that parent’s paycheck.  Parties can “opt out” of having the FOC collect the child support, and they can agree to automatic withdrawals and deposits from private bank accounts. In today’s world, most court-ordered child support is paid through orders of income withholding. That has made it less likely that the court will have to “enforce” a child support order—but this, of course, depends on continued employment.

Can child support or spousal support be modified after a divorce or custody action?

Child support is always modifiable. The FOC is usually willing to consider a motion to modify support every 2-3 years. Both child and spousal support can be adjusted periodically (assuming spousal support was not “non-modifiable). The party seeking modification must file a motion to modify support, and then the modification can only be retroactive to the date of that petition and not before (absent narrow circumstances like fraud in stating income).

Are there ways to keep the cost of my case down?

There are ways to contain that cost of a divorce, including the following:

  1. Gather as much information as you can yourself and provide that to your attorney. This information includes without limitation recent tax returns, bank statements, appraisals (if any), real estate closing packages for property still owned, estate planning documents, SEV statements for real estate, car titles, deeds, W-2’s, credit card statements, retirement account statements, and the like.
  2. Consider the factors relating to custody, support, and property division when negotiating these issues and be realistic when you make or consider a settlement offer.
  3. Do not expect your attorney to be your therapist. If anger, grief, anxiety, or other emotion is interfering with your ability to participate in a custody action or divorce proceeding, consider getting some therapy where those issues can be addressed.
  4. Make your interaction with your attorney or members of the “team” meaningful and productive by setting up an agenda and staying on topic. Make a list of questions you have and send that to the attorney or team member prior to the meeting.
  5. Respond to requests for information timely, whether they are requests from an opposing party or attorney--or a request from your own attorney.
  6. Don’t “act out” by saying and doing things that will complicate your case or reflect poorly on you. In today’s world where “evidence” includes emails, texts, and pictures, it is likely that a judge will discover, see, or hear what you did.
  7. Don’t believe everything you hear. Some information is reliable and irrebuttable.  Other times, what may be presented as “information” is incorrect, only partially true, and/or outright gossip.  Try not to react to anything you hear without consulting your attorney first.
  8. Don’t rely too much on what happened in someone else’s case. First of all, their case is not your case.  Second, most of the time cases are resolved with a consent agreement.  As a result, many people who are unhappy with the outcome in their cases are actually people who agreed to that outcome.
  9. Don’t publicly disparage your spouse or the other parent. This will get back to him/her and just create resentment and possible retaliation.  It will not be appreciated by the evaluators in your case or the court.
  10. Don’t file for a PPO, call the police, or contact CPS without reason. If a court believes that you have filed a false report or are using the system for a tactical advantage, there could be major fall-out for you—especially if your call to the police did not result in a conviction, or CPS does not substantiate your complaint, or the court denies the petition for a PPO or later sets it aside.
  11. That said, don’t hesitate to call the police or CPS if you have a valid reason to do so.  Go to Safe House if you need shelter or counseling.  Get a PPO if you need one.  If there is some time to think this through, it would be advantageous for you to talk to your attorney or therapist before taking action.  Further, few people will fault you for leaving an uncomfortable or dangerous situation.

Testimonials

She was always available, always concerned, and always on task to move my case forward. Read More
– Beverley, an Employment client

About Marian

Marian L. Faupel's Profile Image
The road to becoming an attorney (especially one who handles many family law cases) has been a true journey for me. I grew up in Highland Park, MI—which, back then, was a tree-lined city with the first community college in Michigan and a very progr… Read More

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