Clients often ask me why it takes so long to get divorced. In Michigan and many other states, the quick answer is the statutory waiting period. The waiting period in Michigan is 180 days for a marriage with children, and 60 days where there are no children. The purpose of the waiting period is to give the parties time to cool off, so as to encourage reconciliation, more so with children.
However, many divorces take much longer than 180 days. The reasons for delay include failure of the parties to agree on issues such as spousal or child support, division of property, custody and parenting time.
Clients will suggest that, “we’ve agreed to divide the property 50-50.” My response is 50% of what? This is a serious question, because how many stay at home moms know how much money there is and in what form the financial accounts of the family or husband are kept? How much income does he really make?
To find out what the real assets and income of the family are, lawyers must do legal discovery. Discovery consists of written requests for information or taking testimony under oath to find out “what” you are getting 50% of.
There are other forms of discovery, as well as pretrial evidentiary hearings and motions in court to find out information, to provide for interim support, payment of bills and to enforce compliance.
In cases where children are involved, the Friend of the Court schedules appearances and investigations relative to support, custody and parenting time. They may have preliminary evidentiary hearings before a Judge even hears the same issues. There may be a business to evaluate.
All of these procedures take time. Parties may have at least 28 days in some instances to answer some discovery requests. Evidentiary hearings take time to schedule and prepare for. Expert witnesses need time to investigate, prepare reports and get ready for trial, if necessary. When one of the parties or attorneys doesn’t cooperate with the process, more delay occurs. This may occur as part of a strategy or for emotional reasons.
Throughout all of these proceedings, scheduling must accommodate the parties, the attorneys, witnesses and judges – all on the same day and time.
When all is said, if the parties are well informed of their income and assets, have current, written documentation and agree on custody, support and parenting time, then the case may proceed quickly through the system. When they also employ competent, honest counsel, the parties can achieve a divorce in the shortest time, with a minimum of emotional and monetary cost.
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