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Does It Matter in Michigan Who Files for Divorce First?


Who files first is a common question, and understandably so. Initiating divorce proceedings is a weighty decision, and spouses often wonder if they should take that first step or wait for their partner to do so. In this blog, we’ll delve into the advantages and disadvantages of filing first.

In Michigan, the person who files for divorce is the Plaintiff. The person who responds is the Defendant. If you and your spouse have already separated and live in different states or different counties, you may have the option of choosing the jurisdiction and venue for the divorce proceedings. Keep in mind that real estate location and where the children reside are important factors that may affect where you file as well.

In some instances, spouses do not have a choice as to when to file:  when there is domestic violence or one spouse is dissipating assets or incurring debts, the harmed spouse must file as soon as possible to protect themselves.

Filing for divorce first allows you to file a Motion or Petition for temporary relief.  Being able to outline your requests first has some advantages. Filing your motion first allows you take sufficient time to gather evidence and take the necessary time to write a well supported motion.  The spouse responding to the motion for temporary relief often has to scramble to meet the response time.

Filing first also provides some practice benefits:

  • Emotional Readiness: Filing for divorce is a significant step, and being the first to initiate the process requires emotional readiness and a clear understanding of the implications for both parties and any children involved.
  • Document Organization: The spouse who files first can take the time to gather and organize all necessary evidence and documents such as bank and credit card statements, investment account statements, and the children’s counseling and school records. This meticulous preparation can significantly expedite the process and lower the cost of the divorce proceedings.
  • Strategic Planning Filing first provides the opportunity for strategic planning. This includes decisions such as moving out of the home, long range planning and discussions about which arguments should be made during the legal proceedings. It can serve as a crucial foundation for a favorable outcome.

Of course, there are also potential disadvantages to filing first:

  • Emotional Toll: Being the initiating party can come with added emotional weight. You may second guess your decision and consider if you should have given the marriage more time to heal. Navigating these emotions can be challenging.
  • Negative Responses from Your Spouse: Filing first may create additional resentment and distrust from your spouse, especially when your spouse did not expect you to file for divorce. A lack of trust and increased resentment could lengthen the divorce process and increase the cost.

Does It Always Matter Who Files First?

Usually it does not matter who files for divorce first. In Michigan, the timeframe between filing for divorce and responding to the divorce filing is very small. Preparing for divorce prior to filing tends to have a much greater impact on the outcome of the divorce.

It is important to acknowledge that the significance of filing first can vary widely based on the unique circumstances of each case. Factors such as the nature of assets (i.e., does one spouse own a business), the unique position of each spouse (i.e., does one spouse have an addiction) the presence of children (who will continue day to day care after filing?), and the willingness of both parties to negotiate can all play pivotal roles in determining the ultimate outcome.

In Michigan, filing for divorce first can hold both legal and practical advantages and disadvantages. Because each situation is different, your best course of action is to start with a planning session with our firm to consider your unique situation.  Call our divorce attorneys at 616-285-0808.