Family Law Basics
The term "Family Law" covers a number of interrelated areas, including the ones summarized here.
- Divorce. Michigan law requires a complaint for divorce to be filed in a county where one or both of the parties reside. Because Michigan is a no-fault divorce state, the complaint need not set out the details underlying your decision to divorce. The divorce process takes several months to complete.
- Custody. If you and your spouse have children under the age of 18, the court must award custody. Custody can be awarded to one party or can be ordered shared by both parties. The court will award parenting time to the non-custodial parent.
- Child Support. Michigan courts are guided by a Child Support Schedule to help assure uniformity among cases. The court may be assisted by the Friend of the Court, a county office, in determining the amount of child support. The Friend of the Court may also keep track of support payments and, if necessary, collects missed payments.
- Spousal Support. Unlike child support, spousal support amounts are not predicated on a schedule. The court examines many factors in deciding whether or not to award spousal support, and - if awarded - the amount and duration of such support. Spousal support, or alimony, may be awarded to either a wife or a husband.
- Property Settlements. Virtually every divorce case requires an allocation of assets and liabilities between the parties. Property settlements are almost always the result of negotiations between the parties. Often, the discussions are complicated by tax laws, pension plan law, and liquidity issues. If negotiations fail, the parties may choose to mediate their differences, or they may go to trial and let the court divide the assets and liabilities.
- Prenuptial Agreements. Sometimes called ante-nuptial agreements, these contracts are entered before a marriage to allocate assets between the parties in case they divorce or one of them dies. To make sure such agreements are enforceable, both parties need an attorney's advice.
- Legal Separations. A legal separation is a rare means of settling the issues common in divorce while preserving the marriage. Typically, the parties want to live separately, but health insurance considerations or religious beliefs stand in the way of a divorce.
- Adoptions. The most common adoption approved by the court is a step-parent adoption. This typically occurs when the parents have not married, or where the parents divorce and the custodial parent re-marries. The step-parent petitions the court to adopt the child or children. The non-custodial biological parent either consents or the custodial parent and the step-parent join in asking the court to terminate the biological parent's rights.
- Guardianship. Minor children and incapacitated adults may need a person, or guardian, to care for them. A minor most often needs a guardian when his or her parents cannot provide care because of death, incapacity, or some other reason. An alternative to a guardianship is available if what is needed is financial management. In that case the court may appoint a conservator. Petitions seeking the appointment of a guardian or a conservator are filed in Probate Court although, in some instances, they may be filed in Circuit Court.
The attorneys at the Ann Arbor firm of Hamilton, London, & Davis can assist you with your family law needs with compassion and understanding through a personal and difficult process.