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What are the steps involved in getting divorced?

We All Need A Champion

Let me address this subject somewhat generally.  Each divorce is a different experience, given the persons and attorneys involved, but there are general steps.

First, a huge issue is whether there are minor biological children born of the marriage being concluded, or adopted minor children.  That issue is usually taken on first, and often quite quickly after the filing of a Complaint for Divorce.  In some counties in Michigan (Ingham being one such), this process gets underway with a notice from the Friend of the Court, requesting financial information for a so-called "conciliation" meeting with a Friend of the Court personnel.  This can happen even prior to the time allowed to permit a Defendant to file an Answer and potential Counterclaim for spousal support and the like.

Preparing for the meeting is a good idea.  I meet with my clients to discuss the nature of the proceeding, how to present, what to do if an argument breaks out or there is some other emotional or difficult moment that is expected or might arise.

It should be acknowledged that not all counties permit attorneys to attend a conciliation meeting at the FOC offices.  Usually, even if attorneys are permitted to attend, the attorney is not supposed actively to participate.  I attend any conciliation I am permitted to attend for the support it provides my male or female client.  It is ordinary that I keep my little mouth shut until the parties have spoken and answered questions the conciliator will ask, mainly as to financial matters but it is typical that the conciliator will ask me if (given my good behavior) I have any comment.

It is my habit to thank the conciliator for a good job done, which is usually deserved and then perhaps note some items or items that are particularly difficult for my client to raise or emotional or frightening to speak about.  I have been about the business of stating matters diplomatically, clearly and with conviction now, professionally, for 39 years come this November, 2016.

I try to do things in a way that is positive but pointed enough that even something like a child's disabilities or infidelities that have created a breakdown in trust and ultimately abilitiy to continue the marriage, is said and understood.

These, believe it or not, can be matters the parties simply can't raise.  Just too difficult in the same room, the fact so close to the disappointment and grief in the loss of the original hope and reason persons came together intimately and evolve into a marriage relationship.

Out of these sessions can come a temporary order signed by the Judge in the case, setting child support amounts, parenting time, even spousal support.  The parties can object and have a mini-trial before a lawyer referee and even that can be appealed de novo, as they call it, meaning new and freshly in front of the Judge.  This can be a less formal discussion with the Judge than the referee hearing, which uses the rules of evidence and there is testimony and cross examination. 

I try not to cross examine if possible because I want my client to appear reasonable and not bullying and we can get their side of the story told through them will less risk of looking too tough and maybe offensive?

The next step usually is the game of monopoly, as I tend to call it.  That's the who gets what.  I endeavor to persuade my client not to get drawn into this game too soon and outside of any help or support from their lawyer, me.  All too easy to want to get this thing done and know what the financial world is going to look like as soon as possible but it is better to have a good toting up of the property and assets and see the logical divisions, based upon the parties preferences and needs and the often natural fall out of how it would be possible to get to that over-riding standard of "fair and reasonable," which guides the process in this state.

All of this leads to a judgment of divorce, typically drafted initially by the Plaintiff's lawyer.  It is a listing of all the decisions made, and has the jurisdictional statements needed to have a Judge sign such an Judgment and have a nice legal and enforceable in the future document created.

There is also a pro confessio hearing (often called a "pro con") in which, again, it is the Plaintiff, the person filing the Complaint, creating the proceeding, to testify under oath in front of the black-robed Judge.  This can be an out-of-body experience to that person testifying because it really is the last thing about the marriage.  It last only minutes but can take one's mind out, back over years of hopes and fears, successes and failures, children's births and growing up experiences for a once family, now asunder, in the sense that we all will proceed now rather differently, like regular people working together for sake of minor children in as business-like a way as possible.  But not as married people, and usually it really is for the best.  The marriage really did breakdown and the futures of everyone is actually, really and truly, going to be better, than to fight, fight and fight, continuously into the days ahead, no relief and produce nothing much more than stress, stress, stress.

Without children, the divorce looks more like a business deal, I observe.  It is all monopoly and can have Mediation (alternative dispute resolution; also possible as to the property end of any divorce) and lots of discovery, interrogatory questions to be answered, even depositions, in which testimony is taken under oath.  This can occur of course in any divorce, children or no, but when children are involved, this properly seems to be the main event, the real focus (as it should be).

It's always nicer and better and cheaper and less confrontational if lawyers could work things out in any divorce, with their client well advised at each step, than to have a Perry Mason drama put on with testimony and bad feelings generated through the proceedings.

I often say the real answer to "how will this go," when the client asks about this legal world usually unfamiliar to them, it sort of depends on who is the opposing counsel, someone reasonable or someone different from that...

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