My partner and I are splitting up. What do I do first?
Divorce preparation: legal, financial, and emotional
DIY: Can I do the divorce myself?
I can't afford a divorce attorney. What are my options?
Divorce negotiation: I'm afraid to stand up for myself
Divorce and domestic violence: I'm afraid to leave
- Take a deep breath. You can do this. You'll come out on the other side of this experience with skills and strengths you never knew you had.
- Keep emotional and financial costs to a minimum. Find an adult you can confide in. Do not use a child or attorney in place of a therapist or friend.
- Do not sign anything. Resist threats and the desire to get it over with. Wait until you know more. Don't give away your rights. You may feel very differently 3 years from now.
But DO sign up for our women-only divorce recovery programs listed below.
Protect yourself and your children. Learn what you need to know about separation before you act! These groups are led by people knowledgeable about divorce.
- Divorce education workshops -- attorney and financial-planners tell you what to expect in a safe and comfortable setting (women-only)
- Divorce support group -- a therapist-facilitated group for women anywhere in the process of separating from a long-term term
- Transition Center, Schoolcraft College, divorce education and support groups, as well as legal and financial consultations (on alternating Mondays, Oct-May) for both women and men, students and non-students.
That depends. Is your divorce simple or complex?
- Michigan Divorce Book: A Guide to Doing an Uncontested Divorce Without An Attorney (with or without minor children) by Michael Maran (available in bookstores or at The Women's Center)
- Washtenaw County/EMU Legal Resource Center. Legal self-help forms and information—but not advice—for people without an attorney. Will supply divorce paperwork packet.
- Legal Services of South Central Michigan. Free legal advice and representation on civil matters such as custody and divorce when women and children are at risk, family law, wills, power of attorney, eviction, foreclosure, utility shut-offs, and tenant repair issues for lower-income residents. (The Washtenaw County location does NOT handle divorce-related issues such as custody and child support. See instead, The Family Law Project.)
Even if you are the one who initiates the separation, it’s seldom easy. When kids, pets, debts, and property are involved, it gets even more complicated. If your partner isn’t interested in voluntary mediation, you would be wise to consult an attorney.
Unlike criminal court where a public defendant will be assigned to you, you must hire your own divorce attorney if you decide you need one. This may seem impossible -– especially if you no longer have access to your household income.
Combined income = very low
A. Waiver of fees
Application for a reduction or forgiveness of the divorce application costs
B. Reduced hourly attorney fees
Combined income = moderate
A. Mediation -- voluntary and mandatory.
- “Voluntary” implies that your partner is willing to negotiate in good faith. Voluntary mediation is a more flexible and less costly route than mandatory court-ordered mediation or an attorney-facilitated process.
A mediator (someone trained to be impartial) will guide you and your partner through decisions about parenting time, custody, child support, retirement/pensions, health insurance, housing, etc. The mediator will record your mutual decisions in a document -- the Memorandum of Understanding.
Before signing the memorandum, hire your own personal attorney to look it over to ensure that you have not compromised in ways that put you or your children at risk.
The nonprofit Dispute Resolution Center offers affordable mediation in Washtenaw and Livingston Counties.
- Mandatory mediation, Friend of the Court
If you and your partner cannot come to an agreement on issues of parenting time, custody, and child support, a Friend of the Court mediator will work with you in order to save court time and money. This process is more directive than voluntary mediation. Mandatory mediation is the last step before a costly and time-consuming trial. (Each county has their own Friend of the Court.)
B. Deferred payment possibilities
- Retainer. Most attorneys require an initial payment that covers the time it takes to familiarize themselves with the details of your case and get started on paperwork.
- Payment plan. Ask friends and family if they have a recommendation of a trustworthy family law attorney who can work with you on a payment plan.
- Contingency. You may be able to find an attorney who agrees to take your case in exchange for a share of the post-divorce settlement. If you have few assets, this is unlikely.
C. Initial phone consultation
Washtenaw County Bar Association Referral Line makes it possible to speak with an attorney for 30 minutes, if you have a have a credit/debit card and can afford to wait for up to 2-5 business days for an answer.
When there is an imbalance of power or money, you need someone on your side. Do not do it alone!
Hire an attorney, but keep costs low. Do not use your attorney as a therapist. Attorney fees average $250 per hour. Make a list ahead of time of the issues and questions you want to address. Keep to the point. Do not elaborate on how hurt, sad, and angry you are. Get in and get out. Save those highly-charged emotional issues for your therapist or friends.
You are smart to be cautious. The most dangerous time in a coercive relationship is when your partner senses you are about to leave. Get the support you need to do this safely.
A Women’s Center counselor or your local domestic violence agency can talk you through the process of creating a safety plan.
Intimate partner violence
If you are undocumented and your partner is abusive you may qualify for a U-visa. More information is available through Immigrant Rights and Civil Advocacy Clinic at Cooley Law School in Washtenaw County. In Wayne, call La Vida at 313.849.3920.
Children at risk
The National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Justices has compiled instructions on how to proceed if your partner is threatening to use custody of your children against you.
If you have evidence that your children have been endangered or are at risk for abuse, the Family Assessment Clinic offers counseling as well as objective interviewing that may be admissible in court. (Clinic capacity is limited to a select number of cases per year.)