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  • Writer's pictureEzra N. Goldman

How can something so terrible be so easy? No Fault Divorce in Michigan

Michigan has a requirement that every Judgment of Divorce must accompany a form called "Record of Divorce or Annulment." It is a one-page form that asks the dates of birth of the parties, where they were born, where they were married, what number divorce this is for them, who got custody of how many kids, and the names of the lawyers. I have asked court personnel about the function of this form and I was told that it is for state statistical record keeping. But I have never been able to research these state statistics to discover how many divorces I have done in these 25 years of practicing law. I am sure I have done hundreds.

A comment people frequently make to me on the way out of Court is "had I known this was so easy, I would have done it years ago." Yes. It is relatively easy. I have had many cases where the parties drive to their court date together to finalize their case.

Of course, people can make it difficult if they want to. I tell a story about a childhood friend of mine. Our birthdays were only a couple of months apart and we, from the age of 5 or so, did everything together. But I knew his parents hated each other. They would fight and call each other names in public. It was often ugly. But it was the 70s - people would stay together "for the sake of the children." The argument that the children's sake is best served not living in a house with such open animosity had not yet been made.

When the kids grew up and got married, the divorce started. This is why I am telling this story here; you would think that it is simply at this point. There are no small children so you can just divide things up and be on your way. No such luck. I blame the attorneys to some extent. But these two spent their entire good years on fighting. Their divorce was epic, took about ten years and they spent almost all of their money. They should have been travelling and going on cruises. Instead, they were in court on motions every Wednesday. When they finished, they were poor and old. She moved to another state and he stayed in Michigan.

About ten years later, they remarried each other. The husband was ill; the wife wasn't so quickly finding someone else. Their logic was, after all this time, this was all they knew. After another few years, he died.

This is the worst divorce story I know. To me, it is a story of people who were so stubborn and angry that they blew their entire lives fighting. Their whole life experience was negative because neither was capable of being positive.

The point, however, is that this is the exception. Most people aren't like that. Most people that want a divorce want to get through their divorce without getting screwed and with as little trouble and expense as possible. One does not need a math degree to understand that if you spend $10,000.00 in attorney fees on fighting, you have shrunken the entire marital estate by $10,0000.00. That money comes from everyone's pocket and it could have been spent on braces or college or whatever.

The smartest people come to me and say "we have figured out what we want - we just need you to make it legal." A lawyer can not represent both parties in a divorce. But a lawyer also has no independent interest in causing his client to screw over the other party. So, when a party says "this is what I want in terms of alimony and my spouse will not object," that is happy day for me and for the Court.

Of course there are cases where one side is totally unreasonable and you have to fight some things out. I once represented a woman whose husband was so emotionally abusive to her and the kids that he once threw the cat out of the car while they were driving on the highway. There was no intent in that other than to terrorize and emotionally scar their 10 year old daughter. This case went to trial. The judge, who has since retired but was generally pro-husband, hated the guy's behaviors and gave us everything - the house, the cars, the kids, alimony, child support and my attorney fee. So, his attorney, an older guy, should have seen this coming and talking his client into a reasonable settlement -- we weren't asking for everything in our settlement negotiations. But they wanted to press on and therefore, they lost big time. So, sometimes you do have to fight it out.

But fighting it out should be done with logic and not emotion. One should always consider the expense of the fight and the possibility that you will lose a fight...

Divorce is bad in concept in that everyone prefers happy marriages. As a guy with kids in college, I tell whoever will listen that life is too short to spend the years when the kids are young fighting. Childhood is fleeting. But sometimes, things can not be worked out. When that happens, be an adult and have this conversation: "Let's try to agree on how to divide things so we don't have to blow all our money on having lawyers do it at $300.00/hour." Or at least, narrow the scope of the dispute. Done this way, a friendly divorce can be completed, even nowadays, for less than $1,000.00.

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