Sumner PC & Associates
Skilled Divorce & Family Law Attorney in Michigan
Our divorce lawyers at Sumner & Associates have experience with family law issues such as divorce, alimony, annulment, legal separation, child custody, child support, domestic violence, shared assets and other aspects of the painful divorce process. When you work with the divorce lawyers from Sumner & Associates, you will receive legal representation that is equally compassionate and aggressive.
Divorce is a complicated process and everyone getting a divorce needs an attorney. The attorneys at Sumner & Associates, P.C., have experience with family law issues such as divorce, alimony, annulment, legal separation, child custody, child support, domestic violence, shared assets and other aspects of the painful divorce process. Family law deals with many emotional issues affecting the entire family. These include dissolutions of families brought on by divorce and legal separations and happy events such as adoptions. Our aggressive advocacy, legal advice, and representation may ease many of the stresses that are placed on your family during these times.
Your lawyer can provide legal assistance in family law and should negotiate with your spouse or the opposing attorney if that is your wish. Your lawyer will understand the tax effects that the financial decisions you make will impose. Your attorney should prepare and share with you the strategy for your case.
You should contact a Sumner & Associates, P.C., family law attorney, who knows the laws, the Family Courts and the protections that are available to you. Do not wait too long because these legal issues can multiply if they are not paid attention to right from the beginning. The Ron R. Sumner, LLM has been practicing Family Law for 42 years in Southeastern Michigan and Scott J. Sumner has been practicing Family Law for 14 years in Southeastern and Northwestern Michigan. Call us now for a consultation to discuss your family’s concerns about your legal situation.
When Can I File for Divorce in Michigan?
Ending a marriage is never easy, but our Michigan divorce lawyers can help you complete the process as quickly and fairly as possible. At Sumner & Associates, we understand the challenges involved in a divorce. We will work with you to ensure that you receive your fair share of your marital property, financial support, and parenting time.
Michigan is a no-fault divorce state — you do not have to prove that your spouse caused your breakup. Instead, you simply must show that your marital relationship is irrevocably broken. The state has a residency requirement as well. You cannot file for divorce until either you or your spouse have lived in Michigan for at least six months. There are also waiting periods before you can finalize your divorce. For more information about the timing of your divorce, contact the Michigan divorce lawyers at Sumner & Associates today, and schedule a free consultation.
How Does the Divorce Process Work in Michigan?
- Filing a petition for divorce. One spouse begins the divorce process by filing a “complaint” for divorce with the circuit court in the county where either you or your spouse live. One of you must have lived in that county for at least 10 days.
- Serving the complaint. The spouse filing for divorce must serve the other party within 90 days of the filing. Papers are served by a sheriff’s deputy, in person, or by certified mail with return receipt requested. The receiving spouse has 21 days to file a response. If the spouse does not respond, the court will enter a default judgment.
- Temporary orders. Either spouse may request temporary orders for child support or spousal support at this time. Temporary orders also include custody arrangements and visitation schedules. If one spouse has been abused by the other, the court can issue a temporary restraining order.
- Waiting period. Couples without children must wait two months, while those with children are required to wait six months.
- Divorce settlement. Most divorces start in mediation with both spouses attempting to come to some agreement. Agreements can be reached with the help of mediators or divorce lawyers. Issues related to the children can be negotiated with the Friend of the Court.
- Litigation. If couples can’t reach agreements on their own, they have the option to litigate their divorce. This is the traditional contested divorce that you see dramatized on television (mediation would make for boring drama). Litigation is more costly and time-consuming, but cannot necessarily be avoided.
- Finalizing your divorce. The final step in a divorce is the judgment or decree. The order specifies each spouse’s responsibilities to the other, including child support, alimony, custody, and visitation. It also finalizes property distribution.
What Issues Are Involved in Divorce?
When a marriage ends, you must resolve a wide variety of legal issues, including child custody, child support, visitation, property division, and alimony. Sometimes, you and your spouse can quickly resolve these issues — especially if you have a nuptial agreement in place. However, these matters can quickly become contentious. For this reason, it’s always best to work with knowledgeable divorce lawyers. Divorce lawyers can also help you avoid unnecessary delays and disagreements by streamlining your negotiations and encouraging dispute resolution. We have over 50 years of combined experience in Michigan and are prepared to guide you through your divorce. Contact our divorce lawyers today for a confidential and upfront case evaluation.
Can Same-Sex Couples File for Divorce?
Now that same-sex marriage is legal in Michigan (and the rest of the United States), same-sex couples also have the right to divorce. However, LGBT couples sometimes face unique challenges during a divorce. For example, because these marriages are relatively recent, you might face complicated property division issues. Property that you accumulated before your marriage might be considered separate, rather than marital property. This can also make alimony and child custody issues difficult, especially if your children were adopted or born before you married.
Our experienced Michigan divorce lawyers can help you protect your interests and streamline the difficult and emotional process of divorcing your spouse. If you have questions about same-sex divorce in Michigan, contact us and schedule a free consultation today.
Michigan Legal Separation Lawyer
In Michigan, we have legal separation that is known as “separate maintenance.” This arrangement is seldom done. The procedure is similar to a divorce, except that neither party may remarry. The law states that if one party institutes a separate maintenance suit and the other party files for divorce, the court will only consider the case as a divorce matter and cannot enter a judgment of separate maintenance.
We also have annulment proceedings in Michigan, which invalidate a marriage. Marriages may be void from the outset or be voidable, depending on the circumstances. In Michigan, you can get an annulment under limited circumstances. The grounds include incapacity to marry, such as insanity, bigamy, under age, or any type of fraud or coercion that goes to the heart of the marriage. While an annulment voids your marriage, you might still be eligible for child support, child custody, and alimony. Parties wishing an annulment must not cohabitate after having discovered the grounds for the annulment of the marriage.
If you have any questions about separate maintenance or annulment, please complete our contact form or call one of our local divorce law offices in Michigan, today. The following materials basically concerns divorce (though there may be similarities between divorce, separate maintenance and annulment actions).
The initial filing of a divorce case may include the following documents:
- Summons. This document notifies the other spouse that a suit has been started. He or she has 21 days, if personally served in Michigan, to respond or a default may be taken (28 days if served by mail or if the other spouse lives outside of Michigan). If a party is defaulted, he or she may not be allowed to participate in the proceedings.
- Complaint. This document states the names of the parties, where, when, and by whom you were married, the names and birthdays of the children (if any), the wife’s and husband’s names before marriage, the length of residence in the county and state, the date of separation, the grounds for divorce, a statement as to property, whether the wife is pregnant, and the relief requested. A party must reside in Michigan for at least 180 days and in the county where the suit is started for at least 10 days. There are some exceptions to the residency requirement. Affidavit of Service and Return of Service. This is filed when service of papers on the spouse is made.
- Affidavit of Previous Suit. This informs the court as to whether the parties have filed for divorce before or had any case in another court. Statement to the Friend of the Court. This is to inform the Friend of the Court of the essential facts (it is unnecessary in cases where Friend of the Court services are not required).
- Affidavit. Another affidavit lists the child’s or children’s residences during the past five years and states that no custody action involving the child is pending (it is only needed when minor children are involved).
- Record of Divorce. This is a statistical record required by the Michigan Department of Health.
Injunction. This is only requested when needed to restrain a spouse from committing certain acts. Your attorney will explain this procedure to you in detail and ask if you want an injunction.
- Ex Parte Orders. These may be obtained for temporary custody, support, etc. A timely filed objection to the ex parte order will negate the effectiveness of the order until a hearing on the matter.
- Affidavit for Ex Parte Order. This sworn statement affirms the facts stated to obtain the ex parte order are true.
- Circuit Court Filing Fee. The court filing fee will be between $180 and $230, as of October 1, 2004. There is also a charge for serving papers. Later on, there may be other costs for services, such as the cost of appraisers, actuaries, accountants, depositions, etc. You will be advised before any of these expenses are incurred. There may also be Friend of the Court and judgment fees.
- Notice of Hearing, Praecipe, Motions, and $80-100 Filing Fee. These are required for any motion that requires a hearing. A motion is a request to the court for some type of relief. A praecipe is a court form requesting that the matter be set for hearing. Notice of hearing advises that a hearing will be held.
- Judgment of Divorce. This is the final document that grants the divorce and states the terms of the divorce. When there are children involved, a $40 fee is required.
The plaintiff is the party who starts the lawsuit. The defendant is the person against whom the suit is filed. The divorce is resolved by the family division of the circuit court. The office of the Friend of the Court makes recommendations for spousal support, child support, custody, and parenting time. This office also collects and distributes the spousal and child support payments. If may also request enforcement of court orders dealing with child and spousal support as well as parenting time. The court may use the Friend of the Court for other miscellaneous duties, including a recommendation on property distribution.
After the complaint and summons are filed and served, the defendant may file an answer to the complaint, which is a paragraph-by-paragraph response to the complaint. Once the answer is filed, the case is contested. If no answer is filed by the defendant, an order of default is entered, indicating the defendant’s lack of response. The matter becomes an uncontested divorce case. If the case is contested, the defendant may not only answer the complaint, but also file his or her own counterclaim. This counterclaim must be answered by the plaintiff.
A divorce cannot be granted in less than 60 days. When there are minor children, the parties must wait 180 days. However, the six-month period may be waived under certain circumstances. No divorce is granted without a court hearing to determine the truth of statements made in the complaint.
Temporary Orders While Your Case Is Pending
Temporary orders for custody, child and spousal support, mortgage payments, medical payments, parenting time, injunctions, and other relief may be requested at any time after your case is started and before a judgment of divorce is entered. A temporary injunction can restrain a party from doing something. There are two types of injunctions to deal with violence: one authorizes immediate arrest (criminal); the other provides for an appearance before the judge to determine what action should be taken (civil). There is also an injunction restraining a party from selling, disposing of, or dissipating assets. Other types of injunctions may be requested. Child support, custody, mutual injunctions, and personal protection orders are usually granted to the plaintiff without a hearing.
Temporary orders for child support are usually based on a state-recommended chart. Generally, spousal and child support is based on need and ability to pay. The lifestyles of the parties are also taken into consideration. For child custody disputes, you will be advised to study the 11 specific factors listed in the Child Custody Act (see Child Custody below). The procedures and preparations for such a case are too involved for this discussion and must be left to further discussions with your attorney.
The court may also award temporary fees to assist a party with his or her costs of obtaining legal services. This is usually obtained in the same way as any other motion. Sometimes it may be part of a motion requesting other relief.
Working Towards Settlement
While your case is pending, your attorney will be defining the issues and trying to resolve them. Your attorney will also attempt to find the net worth of the parties and the general financial status of the family. A verified financial statement or interrogatories may be sent out requiring answers from the recipient under oath. Complete financial data is usually requested. Depositions may be taken (with consent of the client) to obtain further information from the other spouse or from those that have the needed information. Appraisers, actuaries (if pensions are involved), accountants, or behavioral professionals may be used (with the client’s prior consent). You and your attorney, after the discovery work has been completed, will set final goals you wish to obtain. This will not be done hastily, and you will be given an opportunity to study the proposed settlement. Your attorney will advise you on the likelihood of acceptance of your proposals or what a court may do.
The attorneys may call a meeting, with both parties present, and try to resolve as many issues as possible. This is a voluntary process. Either party may decline to attend.
If settlement is reached, the parties will be asked to sign a property settlement form containing all the provisions of the settlement. The parties may be required to approve the settlement in court, before the judge, after it is placed on the record.
The judgment of divorce is the most important document you will receive. After a settlement is reached and/or the case is tried, the judgment of divorce will be entered by the court as your final decree granting you a divorce. It will also contain clauses dealing with such issues as spousal support, custody, child support, parenting time, insurance, dower rights, property settlement, and other miscellaneous clauses. If a settlement has been reached, you must carefully read and examine this judgment and have your attorney explain it to you before you approve it.
Dividing Marital Property in Michigan
Michigan is an equitable distribution state. In other words, each spouse should receive a just and reasonable portion of the marital property. However, your property does not have to split 50/50. A variety of factors can impact each spouse’s property share, including:
- How long you were married,
- How much you contributed in marital assets,
- Age and health,
- Financial and personal circumstances,
- Income potential,
- Whether your conduct contributed to the marriage’s breakdown, and
- Concepts of equity and fairness.
Your marital property might include real estate, vehicles, pension and retirement accounts, savings and investments, art and collectibles, and personal property. It’s also important to understand that you’ll have to divide your marital debts as well as your property.
However, certain assets aren’t always considered marital property. For example, items you accumulated before the marriage and inheritances are sometimes considered separate property. (You do not have to divide separate property during a divorce.) If you think an asset is separate property, contact a divorce attorney immediately for help protecting it. You can also designate an asset as separate property through a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
Most people cannot handle marital property division issues on their own. Typically, you must perform a complicated analysis of your assets — determining whether they are marital property and evaluating their worth. For this reason, you should contact one of our experienced property division lawyers at Sumner & Associates for a personalized and upfront evaluation of your case.
What Happens If There’s a Nuptial Agreement?
A valid nuptial agreement can protect your property, streamline the property division process, and help you avoid liability for your spouse’s debts. While prenups (and postnups) are typically associated with the very wealthy, they’re a great financial planning tool for all couples. If you were wise enough to get a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, make sure you tell your divorce lawyer about the document. It might save you a lot of headaches and money.
However, not every nuptial agreement is valid. If you were coerced into signing a prenup — or it contains illegal terms — the courts might not enforce it. At Sumner & Associates, our divorce lawyers can help you evaluate your nuptial agreement — and either dispute or enforce it in court.
Can I Get Alimony in Michigan?Sometimes, a spouse can demand spousal support or alimony. Alimony can help a husband or wife care for a couple’s children, obtain additional job training skills, or rebuild after a marriage. While spousal support is typically a temporary benefit, some spouses receive alimony for extended periods of time. If you believe you need spousal support after a divorce, contact a divorce lawyer immediately. Divorce lawyers can help you assess your circumstances, apply Michigan’s laws, and build a compelling demand for spousal support. Divorce lawyers can also help you fight an alimony request, or demand the modification or termination of alimony if your or your ex’s circumstances change. Spousal support protects spouses whose primary role in the marriage was to raise the children and care for the home or otherwise have significantly less earning power or assets than the other spouse. Property distribution of major assets will play a role during the negotiation process. The idea is to allow the other spouse to maintain their standard of living after the divorce has been finalized. When the court makes a decision on alimony, it will consider a number of factors. These include:
- Conduct of both parties during the marriage
- How long the couple was married for
- Ability of one party to maintain their standard of living with their current income
- Property distribution agreements negotiated during the divorce
- Ability to pay alimony to the other spouse
- Needs of both parties after the divorce
- Employability and education level of the spouse requesting alimony
How Do I Get Child Custody or Visitation Rights in Michigan?Most parents value their time with their children more than anything else. And, during a divorce, children need their parents’ love and assurance more than ever. Therefore, it’s important to establish a fair custody schedule that is in your child’s best interests. Ideally, you and your spouse will negotiate and resolve custody issues outside of court. However, child custody and visitation is frequently a disputed issue during a divorce. If you and your spouse cannot agree on child custody issues, the court will decide them for you. When awarding child custody, courts consider a variety of factors, including:
- Emotional bond between the parent and child
- Parent’s ability to care for the child’s emotional, physical, and financial needs,
- Child’s need for stability,
- Child’s connection to his or her school and community,
- Parent’s moral fitness,
- Whether there is a history of domestic violence, and
- Child’s personal preferences (if age appropriate).
How Does Child Support Work?
Parents have a legal obligation to financially support their children. During a divorce, you’ll have to address child support with your spouse if you have children. While many families can amicably agree on child support issue, they can also become an emotional and divisive issue. The divorce lawyers at Sumner & Associates can help you fight for child support, and file a petition to modify or terminate child support if your circumstances change.
Parents are also required to support their children regardless of whether or not they have visitation rights. Parents who do not have primary custody can only claim the children as dependents if they obtain a written consent from the custodial parent. Form 8332 must be signed and filed each year. The parent with custody is waiving their right to claim the children as dependents. This can be negotiated during the divorce.
While child support typically ends at the age of 18, a child support order can remain in effect while a child is completing high school so long as that they are no older than 19 and 6 months. The child must attend regularly and make a reasonable attempt to attain a diploma.
Child support payments are calculated using a strict formula that considers the income of both spouses. The parent with whom the children live is entitled to child support payments. The court considers the gross income of the non-custodial parent.
If there has been a change to your income, debts, or earning capacity, child support orders can be modified to reflect your current situation.
Post-Judgment Modification Order
After your divorce is finalized, the court will issue divorce decrees that settle questions like custody arrangements, visitation schedules, child support payments, and spousal support payments. But what happens if circumstances change, or if you’re dissatisfied with the outcome? In some cases, divorce judgments can be revisited and, when it makes sense, adjusted. Below, we discuss how to obtain a post-judgment order, and how a Michigan divorce attorney at Sumner & Associates, P.C. can help.
Appealing a Divorce Decree
A divorce decree remains in effect until one or the other party can show cause to modify it. If, however, one spouse feels as though the trial court judge did not apply the law correctly, they can appeal the decision to a higher court. If the parties reach a settlement, the agreement cannot be appealed.
In order to appeal a divorce order, you must be able to establish that the trial court judge made an error in either procedure or judgment that materially affected the outcome of the case. If successful, the appeals court will invalidate the divorce judgment and the process must begin again.
Modifying a Divorce Decree
The court may consider a post-judgment modification order when there is a change in circumstances regarding:
Either party in a divorce can file a post-judgment modification order. In cases where both parties can come to an extrajudicial agreement, their lawyers need only file papers with the court and the new agreement becomes legally enforceable.
Contesting a Post-Judgment Modification
Let’s say one spouse wants to modify the original or current divorce decree but the other spouse is opposed to that modification. When this happens, the court holds a hearing. The spouse petitioning for the modification must provide evidence as to why the court should grant the modification order while the opposed spouse must provide evidence as to why they shouldn’t. The court then renders a decision based on whether or not there is sufficient cause to modify the existing agreement.
In some cases, it may be possible to challenge an order related to property division. Generally speaking, the spouse petitioning for the modification would need to show that the other spouse fraudulently hid assets or under-reported their income.
Modifications to Child Support or Alimony
The court will use the Michigan Child Support Formula to determine how much child support one parent must pay to another. In cases where a parent’s financial situation has changed, the number generated by the formula may change too. If one parent is laid off from work or injured on the job, they may be receiving unemployment payments or workers’ compensation that only covers a portion of what they were earning before. Generally speaking, the courts will take this into account if you file for a modification to change a current child support payment.
The formula takes into account two main factors:
- How many minor children are in the home (that are yours), and
- Your monthly income.
Other considerations include:
- How much time the child spends with each parent
- Material changes to your financial situation, including changing jobs or losing a job,
- Whether a minor child has reached the age of 18.
Modifications to Child Custody Arrangements
Custody arrangements can be modified well after a divorce has been finalized. Sometimes, the reason for a post-judgment modification order may be as simple as one parent’s schedule has changed and they can no longer visit their children as they used to.
Even though parents can resolve such complications on their own, it makes sense to have your attorneys file the necessary paperwork so that the order is legally enforceable. If one parent decides to renege on the agreement, the court can only intervene if the other parent can show how they violated an established agreement.
In cases where one parent wants to move the child out of state or even to another city, they must get the permission of the court before making the move. These are among the most difficult modification orders because one parent may be deeply opposed to losing contact to their child. It can alter an existing agreement significantly. For that reason, the court must rule on whether the move is in the best interests of the children.
Speak to a Michigan Attorney About Requesting a Post-Judgment Modification Order
Regardless of your reasons for wanting to alter an existing arrangement, a Michigan divorce attorney at Sumner & Associates, P.C. can help you prepare and file your petition. In cases where your former spouse is opposed to amending the agreement, we can ensure that your needs are considered when the judge renders a final decision. To learn more, contact us today.
Michigan Paternity Lawyer
Establishing paternity in a divorce or child support case can be beneficial to all parties involved. If you’re a father, you may want to ensure that you have custodial rights to your child. If you’re a mother, you may want to ensure that the court imposes upon the father a legal obligation to provide financial support for your child. In either case, a Rochester Hills Mi paternity lawyer at Sumner & Associates, P.C. can help.
Establishing Paternity “Voluntarily” When Parents Are Unmarried
If a married woman gives birth to a child, the law presumes that the husband is the father. For unmarried parents, however, they must make a declaration after the birth of their child. If they are both in agreement that the father is in fact the biological father, they can establish paternity voluntarily by signing an Affidavit of Parentage. When a father signs this document, he is affirming that he has not only the legal rights of a father, but the responsibilities as well. It is a legally binding document that must be considered carefully before signing.
Once a father signs the Affidavit of Parentage, he is giving up his right to have a genetic test determine paternity, have a court decide the matter, or have court-appointed legal counsel represent them. Upon voluntarily establishing paternity, the court will issue a family support order that establishes the father’s financial obligation to the child until they turn 18.
Establishing Paternity “Involuntarily” If One Party Disputes the Issue
In some cases, the mother will refuse to sign the Affidavit of Parentage in order to prevent the father from establishing parental rights over the child. The trade-off, of course, is that the mother won’t have legal access to child support.
On the other hand, many fathers do want to establish paternity and feel unfairly cut out of their child’s life when the mother makes this decision. In that case, with the help of a paternity attorney, the father can file a “Notice of Intent to Claim Paternity” through a court action.
The court will oversee a process of genetic testing that is painless and simple. A swab from the inside of the father’s cheek is used to test against the child’s DNA. If the court determines that the father is indeed the biological father, it will issue an order of paternity that asserts him the “legal” father.
How Does Establishing Paternity Benefit the Father?
In order to have visiting time with a child, a father must first establish paternity. The extent of the custody arrangement can also be discussed once paternity is established.
Once the court establishes paternity, the child’s mother is required to make the child available for visitation. The court always operates under the assumption that it’s in the best interests of the child to have two parents who both have an active role in the child’s life.
The first part of the process is establishing a temporary order or agreement that allows visitation. When appropriate, the father may want to solidify their custody arrangement to ensure they can be more involved in the child’s life.
How Does Establishing Paternity Benefit the Mother?
The obvious advantage to mother is imposing a legal obligation on the father to provide child support. However, if the mother is on public assistance, the Michigan courts may require the mother make some effort to establish paternity or identify individuals who are likely to be the father of her child. The courts will then require these men to provide DNA samples. And once paternity is established, they will be required to make child support payments.
In some cases, the mother may not necessarily want the father to be in the child’s life. The court can decide whether or not the father should have access to the child. Regardless, the father is required to financially support the child.
Paternity and Adoption
What happens if an expectant mother wants to give her child up for adoption? A man may elect to establish paternity in order to take over the sole caregiver rights of the child before they are placed in an agency.
Once paternity has been established, the father can stop the process of giving the child away for adoption, but he must also prove to the court that he is fit to be a parent to the child. The father would need to show that he made some effort to support the mother and that he has made the necessary arrangements to care for the child on his own.
Once paternity is established, the court must terminate the father’s parental rights before the adoption can happen. If the mother of your child is threatening to give the baby away for adoption, a Michigan paternity lawyer can stop the process from moving forward.
Talk to a Michigan Paternity Lawyer Today
Whether you’re a father who wants to establish his legal rights or a mother who wants to ensure her child is cared for, we can help. Contact a Michigan paternity lawyer at Sumner & Associates today.