Does It Matter Who Files For Divorce First in Michigan? - Online Divorce
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Does it Matter Who Files For Divorce First in Michigan?

Divorce specialist Jamie Kurtz

Jamie Kurtz has been a practicing divorce lawyer since 2008. She received her Juris Doctorate from Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles in 2007. Ms. Kurtz was selected to Rising Stars for 2013 - 2016, 2019 - 2020, a peer designation awarded only to a select number of accomplished attorneys in each state. She also co-founded a law firm that specializes in uncontested divorce cases.

Quite often, spouses who have decided to get divorced postpone their visit to the court. The most common reason is the fear of starting divorce proceedings. Although it is enough to write a formal divorce complaint and submit it to the court to get started, many people are concerned about completely different issues – the consequences of filing first.

Theoretically, it should not matter who files for divorce in Michigan first since the state laws (MI Compiled Laws) ensure equal rights for both the filing spouse (petitioner) and non-filing spouse (respondent).

In reality, a person initiating a divorce process can gain some benefits and face fewer difficulties. Let us talk in detail about legal and financial reasons for making the first move.

Advantages of Filing First

Filing for divorce first in Michigan will give you many advantages in preparation, strategy, and timing. You can plan all your steps calmly and without haste. Being a spouse who files for divorce first, you can decide which court to use to file your papers.

Perhaps you will even be able to choose a judge with the most balanced and fair approach towards your issues. There are also more benefits you can obtain if you know where to look for them. Below are just a few.

You can choose the jurisdiction

All states have residency requirements that generally represent the period during which a person who initiates a divorce has to live in the state before taking any marriage dissolution action to court. In Michigan, you or your spouse need to be a resident of the state for 180 days before filing a petition with the court (MI Compiled Laws § 552.9).

The right to choose the place where all court hearings will take place is a rather considerable advantage. For example, take the following case. Suppose a woman who is filing for divorce lives in Michigan, and a man moved to another state.

Imagine how much time he will have to spend traveling to attend court hearings. To avoid such a situation, get ahead of your spouse and be the first to choose the most convenient location.

You have time to prepare the documents

Before you tell anyone about the intention to end your marriage, you have time to collect all the necessary financial and legal documents. Start making copies of pay stubs, bank accounts, retirement statements, trusts, investments, taxes, mortgages, and loans.

Note that this list is not exhaustive, but imagine how much harder it would be to get ahold of it later when the proceedings begin.

Another thing you need to concern yourself with is getting divorce papers. You will typically need a full packet of documents in Michigan, the primary being a formal complaint and a summons. It’s your choice how you want to obtain them — from a lawyer or search for an online divorce service.

You protect the property and children

When you are concerned about your property’s safety, there is no question of who should file for divorce first – you should be the person to make the first step. Until you file a formal complaint with the court, your spouse can take any action with your marital property they want.

Some people anticipating the end of their marriage begin to hide income or excessively spend money. Filing first, you can prevent your spouse from such actions by requesting temporary restraining orders.

In the state of Michigan, these orders are binding for both parties and usually concern the following issues:

  • Occupation of the family house;
  • Arrangements concerning minor children;
  • Spousal and child support;
  • Protection of assets, etc.

Very often, temporary orders transform into permanent arrangements or significantly affect the judge’s decisions. So, it is paramount to set the right direction before the other spouse makes the first move.

If you decide to hire a lawyer, you will have enough time to find the one that is right for you. You should consider the amount of experience each divorce attorney has, their hourly fee, and how well you get along with them.

After hiring a lawyer, you will also have time to discuss all the essential aspects of the case and form a strategy.

At the same time, if you do not have enough money to pay for legal services, you can file for divorce yourself. This option is prevalent when the spouses want to part amicably. A peaceful separation can significantly save money and reduce the complexity of the entire process.

You get more control

Usually, the spouse who initiates the divorce has the right to be the first to speak at court hearings or alternative mediation sessions. This way, they present their arguments from a clean slate without previously expressed antagonism.

The respondent will have to act as the guilty party and justify themselves by putting forward their evidence. A first impression that a judge gets of you as an innocent party can play a decisive role in the entire case’s outcome.

Also, you have control over your divorce process. For instance, you can withdraw your complaint before starting the court proceedings and wait for a better moment to re-submit it.

This decision is relevant if you think that the judge is going to enter an unfavorable divorce outcome. But note that you can dismiss the case only if your spouse has not submitted a formal response to your petition.

Disadvantages of Filing First

In some situations, the spouse who initiates the divorce will have to deal with some difficulties. They include both the financial and legal issues described below. However, depending on the contentiousness of your divorce case, the downsides of filing first may partly be resolved or avoided entirely.

Let us look at the most significant of them and the possible ways to lessen their effects for a petitioner.

You might pay more court fees

As with other states, a person petitioning for divorce in Michigan must pay a filing fee. Its amount may vary slightly between counties. If the couple has no children, the average price is $175. If there are minor children, the fee rises to $255.

The petitioner is obliged to pay this amount simultaneously with the submission of the primary documents. However, you can file without paying the fee if you cannot afford it. You just need to complete a Fee Waiver form and submit it for the court’s consideration.

You must inform your spouse

In order to give your spouse legal notice of your divorce, you must deliver copies of the complaint and summons to them. In Michigan, you can use one of the following methods: paying a sheriff’s deputy or a private server, registered mail, or publishing in a newspaper. This obligation of serving your spouse may take additional time and money, which is not a very attractive perspective.

However, if you and your spouse have reached a mutual agreement, you do not need to complete all these steps. Your spouse can sign and file a written form waiving the process of service.

As you can see, the decision to be the first to end a marriage brings more benefits than difficulties. On the contrary, sitting tight and waiting for your husband or wife to start the marriage dissolution process can have adverse consequences and affect the chances for a positive outcome.

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