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What is a Divorce?

We all know someone who has had a divorce, and we all have a basic concept of what the term means.  But what really is a divorce in the State of Michigan?  Let’s take a moment to explore it a bit.

First of all, a divorce is a lawsuit.  It is technically an adversary proceeding.  Thus, if John Doe files for divorce against his wife, Jane Doe, the case will be called “John Doe versus Jane Doe,” or simply “Doe v Doe.”  So, starting a divorce case requires that someone actually files a legal action in the circuit court for the county in which one or both of the parties lives. 

By filing a divorce action, the person who has filed – deemed the “plaintiff” – has raised several issues in the court of law.  These issues are generally property and debt division, spousal support (formerly known as “alimony”), and whether the marriage is irreconcilable – though this only takes one party’s say-so to prove.  If the couple has minor children, the divorce also raises the issues of child custody, parenting time (formerly known as “visitation”), and child support.

What does it mean that these issues have been “raised?”  It means that, in order for the case to come to completion, a determination needs to be made as to each of those issues – e.g. what will the custody arrangement be?  How will the property be divided?  Who will pay spousal support, and how much and for how long?  Unless the case is dismissed by the parties or the court, it will not end until those determinations are made.

How are those determinations made?  It can be in one of two ways.  First – and this is almost always the best option – the couple agree on how each of those issues will be resolved.  One of the roles of the lawyers – and potentially a third-party mediator – is to help the parties come to this agreement.  Second, if the parties cannot agree, then a trial is held before the judge, and the judge decides what the outcome will be with respect to each of the issues.  Here, the lawyers’ jobs are to present their client’s respective cases and argue for determinations by the judge that are most favorable to their respective clients.

Once the determinations are made as to all the issues – whether by the couple or by the judge at trial – it is then the job of one of the attorneys to write up a Judgment of Divorce.  Commonly called the “divorce decree,” this document sets forth all of the determinations that were made on all the issues.  Once the attorneys are both satisfied that the document accurately portrays the determinations, it is submitted to the judge and, when supported by the appropriate testimony, signed.  With that, the divorce is complete.

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what a divorce actually is.  Our Michigan family law attorneys have years of experience handling divorce cases and would be happy to talk to you.  Give us a call at (734) 254-1140 to schedule a meeting over the phone or in our office.

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