Deciding your marriage is over doesn’t automatically put you at odds with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. But until recently, Michigan divorce was necessarily adversarial: Plaintiff vs Defendant. Now a new court rule acknowledges that families take many paths to the courthouse and sometimes, former spouses can walk out as friends.
Adversarial vs Collaborative Divorce
Traditional divorce is often angry, aggressive, and adversarial. It pits husband against wife, spouse against spouse, parent against parent. The parties and their attorneys put together their best arguments, often cutting each other down as much as they build themselves up. It can be embarrassing, painful, and all too public.
Over the last several years, the Michigan legislature and the courts have begun to recognize some of the flaws in the traditional adversarial system. Judges and family law attorneys alike have encouraged families to resolve their differences through alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques like mediation and, more recently, collaborative practice.
Under the collaborative model, parents and spouses work together with specially trained attorneys, coaches, therapists, and other experts to come to a resolution that respects the dignity of everyone involved. It recognizes that even though the marriage is over, the parties will often still need to respect and work with each other in the future, especially when there are children involved.
(While I fully approve of collaborative divorce for some couples, I am not presently certified in formal Collaborative practice methodologies and legally cannot take on collaborative divorce clients. If you need a referral to a collaborative practitioner, contact me for a referral.)
Michigan Court Rules Now Include Consent Divorce Process
The Michigan legislature and court system have been slowly coming around to non-adversarial approaches to divorce and family law. It adopted meditation court rules 15 years ago. Then in 2014, Michigan adopted the Uniform Collaborative Law Act. This law formally recognized the collaborative practice that was already happening across the state. Court rules about how that model would fit (often poorly) within the traditional adversarial court structure.
Fast forward to April 19, 2019. The Michigan Supreme Court announce Michigan Court Rules 3.222 and 3.223, rolling out a new consent divorce process that eliminates “the v” between spouse and spouse. The court rules set out procedures for parties who are using the collaborative divorce process or other non-adversarial options to resolve their issues and dissolve their marriage.
Under the consent divorce process included in these rules, spouses who have already divided their assets and worked out issues of custody, parenting time, and child support, can skip the pretrial process and go right to the entry of judgment. Those who are working through the collaborative process can ask the court to put their divorce on hold while they work through the steps.
Consent Doesn’t Have to Be Collaborative
But the collaborative divorce process isn’t the only way to avoid conflict in your divorce or family law case. There are many paths families take to divorce. Attorneys come in for most families at some point, but in many cases, the parties have already done some of the work themselves.
Many couples who come to me have been separated for a long time and have already divided their assets. Others have already worked out a parenting time schedule that works for them and their children. In some cases, informal negotiations can resolve contested issues before the documents are ever filed. In other cases, one parent can come up with a plan for divorce that the other parent simply says yes to. Sometimes there just aren’t enough assets to fight over.
That’s why the consent divorce process accounts for anyone who comes to the court with a settlement of their family law issues. You don’t have to go through the time and expense of the collaborative divorce process to take advantage of the streamlined process. As long as you can provide the court with a consent judgment signed by both parties, you can ask the court to speed things along and move on from your marriage with dignity and without being at odds with your former spouse.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a family law attorney at Schmidt & Long, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She helps parents and couples get divorced without necessarily turning things ugly. Contact Schmidt & Long to schedule a consultation.