Terms and Definitions in Family Law in Michigan

by Laurie Schmitt on May. 22, 2019

Divorce & Family Law Divorce Divorce & Family Law  Family Law Divorce & Family Law  Child Custody 

Summary: Terms and definitions for family law court in Michigan

I receive many calls from potential clients that have been served with a Complaint for Divorce, or are wishing to file for divorce.  For parties who have never been through the legal system, the terminology used in a divorce action can often be confusing and overwhelming.   Below are basic legal terms associated with a divorce action.


PLAINTIFF: The Plaintiff is the party initiating the action (filing spouse).


DEFENDANT: The Defendant is the party whom the Complaint is filed against (the non-filing spouse).


SUMMONS: The Summons is the document that used to start an action.   The Summons notifies the person named that an action has been filed against him.  The Summons is issued by the Clerk of the Court in the county in which the Plaintiff is filing the action.  The Summons indicates the name and address of the court, the names and addresses of the parties, and the name of Plaintiff’s attorney (if any). 


SERVICE OF PROCESS:  The service of the Summons and Complaint must be hand delivered to the Defendant by a third party (such as a process server), or through the U.S. Mail (certified mail/restricted delivery).  Once service has been complete, an Affidavit of Service must be filed with the court.  The Affidavit of Service indicates the date, time, and location of service on the Defendant.  If the Defendant was served via U.S. Mail, the green card must be filed with the court.


COMPLAINT FOR DIVORCE:  A Complaint for Divorce is the document that initiates the divorce proceeding.  The Complaint for Divorce identifies the parties, states the claims against the Defendant, and petitions the Court to grant the divorce.  If applicable, a Complaint for Divorce requests the Court to make a determination regarding custody, parenting time, child support, spousal support, and division of the marital property.  The Complaint for Divorce must be filed with the Court, and served with the Summons on the Defendant.  The Defendant will then have 21 days to  respond the Complaint for Divorce. 


RECONCILATION AND DISMISSAL:  Not all divorce cases filed result in a divorce.  If the parties resolve their differences and wish to terminate the divorce action, an order of dismissal must be entered by the court.  Once this Order has been, entered, the case is dismissed.  In the future should either party wish to move forward with another divorce action, they must file a new case with the court.


LEGAL GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE:  Michigan only provides for no-fault divorce.  The Plaintiff will have to state in their Complaint for Divorce, and at the final hearing 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. 


WAIT PERIOD – BEFORE THE DIVORCE CAN BE GRANTED: If there are no minor children of the marriage, there is a two month wait period.  If the parties have minor children of the marriage, there is a six month wait period.


Laurie Schmitt of Schmitt Law, PLLC, is a West Michigan family law attorney specializing in collaborative divorce as well as separation, divorce, child custody and support, paternity, and other family law litigation. She is licensed by Michigan State Bar and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, and has extensive advanced training in divorce mediation and collaborative divorce. Contact Laurie.



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