What to Expect at a Pretrial for Divorce in Michigan

By Victoria McGrath

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A judge uses a pretrial conference to review the status of your divorce case and plan out the next steps for your divorce. Status conferences keep your divorce proceedings on track and help simplify the legal issues that must be resolved at trial, such as property division, child custody, child support and spousal support. A complicated divorce with many unresolved issues often requires more than one pretrial hearing.

Preliminary and Future Pretrial Hearings

The State of Michigan establishes a specific protocol for pretrial hearings and status conferences. A simple, uncontested divorce may have only one pretrial conference to present the marital settlement agreement to the judge for review and approval. After the judge approves the agreement, it can be merged into the court order to terminate the marriage. A highly contested divorce may include many pretrial motions that require additional pretrial hearings. After your preliminary pretrial conference to establish a case schedule, future pretrial hearings may resolve one or more legal issues.

Early Pretrial Conference

The court may require you and your spouse to be present at the early scheduling conference, even if you are represented by an attorney. At this hearing, the court addresses procedural issues and the possibility of reaching a settlement agreement. At an early pretrial hearing, the court may hear motions regarding the court’s jurisdiction over the case or a request for a change of location due to improper venue. If the judge finds that the court has authority to rule on the case and it was filed in the proper location, the case proceeds. The judge assesses the complexity of the case and sets a timeline for the divorce proceedings to follow.

Pretrial Schedule Order

At the pretrial conference, the judge again assesses the case and reviews the timeline for the divorce proceedings. The court establishes a schedule to complete court-ordered mediation, amend pleadings, file motions, conclude discovery and exchange witness lists. The judge may also estimate the length of the case and schedule pretrial and trial dates based on available court dates. The parties may raise concerns over the scheduling dates and request additional time in the process. For example, a party may need more time due to the extent of discovery, problems locating a missing spouse or difficulty scheduling an expert witness.

Pretrial Negotiations

At a pretrial hearing, the court encourages both parties to obtain voluntary admissions of fact, limit the number of expert witnesses and reach settlement agreements. When parties agree to negotiate a settlement, the judge may order mediation or alternative dispute resolution. The judge can set a deadline for the spouses to attend the court-ordered mediation and schedule a future pretrial hearing to review any settlement agreement. If the parties reach a settlement before or during the pretrial hearing, the judge may issue a court order based on those agreements. If the parties fail to agree on material issues, the judge hears those unresolved matters at the trial.