Michigan is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that the spouse filing for divorce doesn’t have to prove adultery, abandonment, cruelty, drunkenness or any other specific reason. The filing spouse only has to allege that “there has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.” MCL 552.6. But can the other spouse keep the divorce from happening? There is a common trope in movies and TV shows about spouses chasing each other to have “divorce papers” signed to make it final. Can a spouse “refuse to sign” and stop a divorce in Michigan.
The answer is generally no. A divorce, like any other civil filing, is a lawsuit that is served on the other party. When properly served, the other spouse has 21 days (or 28 days if served by mail or out of state) to file an answer to the complaint. If the other spouse does not respond to the pleadings, then he or she will be in default. This means that the filing spouse can obtain a default judgment of divorce under terms and conditions favorable to him or her (provided they do not violate Michigan law). However, the statutory waiting period that starts from the filing date must still pass even if a spouse is in default. In divorce cases with children, the filing spouse must still wait 6 months. In divorce cases without children, the filing spouse must wait 60 days. Either way, the divorce will be granted even if the other spouse takes no action. The other spouse is not required to sign anything.
Even if the other spouse responds to the pleadings, he or she cannot stop the divorce. If the other side refuses to make agreements on or even discuss any aspect of the issues in the case, then the matter will be set for trial. This means that a circuit court judge will decide how the property will be divided, who will have custody and parenting time with the children, and set the amounts of child support and spousal support if appropriate. However, the judge will NOT rule that the divorce will not be granted. It may take more time and money to get there, but the divorce will become final nevertheless. The other spouse may slow the process down, but cannot stop it altogether.
The filing spouse can elect to dismiss the divorce proceedings before finalization. It is public policy that the spouses use the statutory waiting period to “cool down” and perhaps reach a resolution among themselves short of divorce. If the parties reconcile and the filing spouse wants to withdraw the divorce petition, then he or she may do so at any time prior to the judge signing a final judgment of divorce.
If the other spouse is reluctant to want to end the marriage, then he or she may resort to lies and threats to convince you that the divorce will not be granted without his or her participation. A knowledgeable family law lawyer in your corner can advise you of the proper procedure and all of your legal rights. Having good counsel in your corner from start to finish can ensure the divorce process proceeds timely and that you achieve the optimal outcome. Don’t let bad information and undue delay prevent you from moving on with your life.
If you or a loved one is facing divorce and need legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experience attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.