The substantive area of domestic relations or family law covers an especially broad and varied number of topics. It begins with prenuptial agreements determining how prospective spouses will keep their separate property and create marital property, to enforcing or modifying judgments after a trial-sometimes long after. Our firm also includes related, but distinct proceedings, such as adoption and guardianship/conservatorship.
The heart of any domestic relations or family law practice is litigation between spouses to modify their relationship (separate maintenance) or to dissolve their marriage entirely (divorce). The length of the marriage and the earning capacities of the parties will bear chiefly on whether spousal support is an issue, just as whether the parties have produced children will determine whether custody, parenting time, or child support will be issues in the case. Whether these issues are present, each case has, at its core, defining, valuing and dividing marital property, and allocating marital debt. Deciding what influence fault in the breakdown of the marriage (if any) will have on the final outcome also must be faced.
When the parties have minor children, then the custody, parenting time, and support of the child or children are a bundle of especially contentious and related issues which must be addressed. Sometimes negotiation will suffice, sometimes litigation is required, and often a combination of both end up occurring. If litigation is required, and custody is the central issue, then the Court is guided in this “trial within a trial” that is a custody dispute by the Child Custody Act, MCL 722.21, et seq., other related statutes, and appellate court opinions.
Child-related issues generally stay within the control (jurisdiction) of the Court as long as a child is a minor. This means that, given the right circumstances, these issues are all subject to being re-visited and modified after judgment, until the child becomes an adult. Child support is determined by a federally-mandated, uniform, statewide formula called the Michigan Child Support Formula (MCSF). The chief variables the MCSF takes into account when calculating child support are the parties’ incomes, the number of children, and the number of parenting overnights each party has. It is easy to see how interrelated child support and parenting are. This makes these issues recurrent flashpoints all during a child’s minority. Disputes about parenting time and child support drive most post-judgment domestic relations litigation.
Judgments are self-executing only if the parties voluntarily comply and follow up as required to secure their interests. Actually gaining what has been awarded often requires additional, focused effort. If compliance is lacking, and effort not made, then post-judgment proceedings are often required to complete the work which the judgment only began.
Adoption is the legal proceeding which terminates the parental rights of at least one biological parent, and vests it in another person. In these times of marital instability, step-parent adoptions are probably the most frequent type of adoption.
A Guardianship or Conservatorship are court proceedings where an adult is found to be incompetent to make free, informed decisions about their life or property, respectively. In the right circumstances, such a person will have a guardian or conservator appointed to make such decisions on behalf of the person.