Divorce is hard for all parties involved, but particularly so for children of the marriage. So, when parents are separating and trying to work out visitation plans for the children to still be able to have access to both parents, there are a few factors that should be taken into account to make the transition easier for the children.

1) Consider school or summer schedules.

The school calendar is not flexible, so the visitation plan must necessarily become flexible to accommodate it. Summer schedules can be looser, especially if the children are not enrolled in any formal camp or other activities. Either way, it is essential for parents to work out details such as where the children will be spending school nights, who will be picking them up from school or the bus stop, who will be dropping them off, etc. Since school may represent the one constant in their life when everything else is changing, it is vitally important to make sure their access to school and their friends is maintained.

2) Negotiate holidays.

This has the potential to be a minefield, particularly if big family gatherings are the norm. However, it is still possible to craft something that honors this tradition and accommodates the new reality. Consider alternating holidays (one parent gets Thanksgiving, one gets Christmas) or, if you are on good enough terms with the other parent, sharing the time with the child. Some of this may also be determined by work schedules of the parents, particularly if one parent does shift work or is otherwise away for holidays. In this case, alternative arrangements should be made to accommodate that parent and give them the opportunity to have a holiday as well with the child.

3) Review work schedules.

Just as school schedules are fixed, so often are parent work schedules. Both parents should review their work schedules and identify any flexibilities so as to be able to allow both parents to have the maximum amount of time with each parent. Maybe a parent can take advantage of a telework option a few days a week so they can have the flexibility to pick up the child from school. Perhaps another parent can try to get moved from the night shift to the day shift.

4) Allow for other forms of visitation.

In this day and age, it is almost effortless to get in touch with someone who is not in the same room as you are. Parents should consider being able to contact their children via phone, Skype, or some other app outside of their physical visitation time. This may be particularly helpful to parents who have to travel often or are unable to host the child often.

5) Consider other factors.

A small child will have different needs from both parents than a teenager just as an elementary school-aged child will be different that one in middle school. It is important to take the age factor into account when determining visitation, particularly for older children who may have extracurricular activities that they are involved in. Other factors to consider include how far apart the parents live, and other children that either parent may have at any given time.

Creating a successful visitation plan is not easy, but with skilled, sympathetic counsel like Melissa Pearce on your side, it can be a little less daunting. Contact us today to get started.

~Originally Posted in April 2017~

If you are getting divorced, you may assume that you will automatically receive or be paying alimony, commonly referred to as spousal support in Michigan.

​​Not quite.

Alimony is enshrouded in several myths and misconceptions. This article takes a close look at some of the most common fallacies and the actual facts behind each one. When you understand how the rules of alimony do and do not work, you can prepare for the best possible outcome for yourself and your family.

Myth: Alimony is Automatic

While alimony can be part of a divorce process, it is not automatically included. Whether or not it is awarded depends on a variety of factors, and if the judge decides that it is called for, how much you get depends on variables such as income, assets, standard of living, and contributions toward the marriage.

Myth: Only Men Pay Alimony

A surprising number of people assume that only husbands pay alimony, and only wives receive it. At one time that may have been the rule of thumb, but today alimony is based on which spouse is earning more, not their gender.

Myth: You have a Right to Alimony

Alimony is different from child support in that there is no automatic right to receive it. While parents have a moral and legal obligation to support their children, a former spouse is a different story. The court takes several factors into account to determine if you qualify for alimony, and how much you receive (as well as for how long) will depend according to your own situation. Michigan has no formula for calculating alimony amounts.

Myth: Alimony is Forever

Alimony is rarely an indefinite process. While permanent spousal support is sometimes ordered if one spouse is disabled or has devoted themselves to being a homemaker and therefore has no career skills, most alimony orders have a time limit. To decide the duration of alimony, judges consider factors such as the duration of the marriage, each party’s needs and circumstances, and the likelihood of the recipient spouse to become self-supporting.

If you are getting divorced and wondering how the alimony process works in Michigan, contact Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC today. We will meet with you to discuss your specific situation and give you a reliable idea of what to expect, so that your life after divorce can be reasonably anticipated from a financial perspective.

~Originally Posted in March 2017~

Marriage can be difficult in ways you may not have anticipated when you first said ‘I do’. The situation is compounded by the reality that there is no universal formula for a happy relationship or road-map we can use to successfully navigate through the difficult times. While some couples eventually move past periods of turmoil, others wonder whether or not divorce is the solution.

It’s a question that only you can answer. Divorce is a highly personal decision and only you can truly know what the best move is for your circumstances. But unless there are urgent reasons for leaving your spouse, such as domestic violence, it’s generally advisable that you ask yourself the following four questions and provide honest answers.

Do I want a divorce or simply a happier marriage?

The answer to this one is especially important, as there’s a huge difference between a marriage that’s simply unhappy and one that’s irreparably broken. Some couples contemplate divorce when all they really need is marriage and or personal counselling to assist them with serious relationship challenges.

Do I have unfairly high expectations for marriage?

While there’s no reason why you should tolerate shabby treatment or disrespect, it’s a good idea to ask yourself whether your expectations are unreasonably high. Do you expect your spouse to read your mind and tell when you’re unhappy? Should you share your priorities 100% of the time? Should you always agree on financial matters? These aren’t necessarily irreconcilable differences: even the happiest couples are not always on the same page.

Have I taken an honest look at my own role in the problem?

No one is perfect, so we all contribute to our own problems to a certain extent. Maybe we’re quick to lose our temper when things go wrong or, conversely, shy away from speaking up until we reach a boiling point. Perhaps we’re dismissive of any perspectives or opinions we don’t share. While you are not responsible for your spouse’s actions, you are responsible for yours.

Do I still love my spouse?

Everyday stresses and challenges associated with marriage can cause some of us to lose sight of the love we originally had for our spouse. While love doesn’t cure all, it can be the foundation for getting the help needed to repair your marriage.

If you decide in the end that divorce is the best option, your next step should be to contact an experienced divorce attorney in your local area. If you reside in Southeast Michigan, call Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC for advice and assistance. We will provide legal guidance and representation throughout the divorce and any post-settlement modifications that may be required, so that you can move on toward a happier and more fulfilled future.

~Originally posted in February 2017~

Prenuptial agreements, also known as prenups, are becoming more common as couples of all ages and income levels continue to join in holy matrimony. According to a survey of divorce attorneys carried out by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers in 2013, 63% of respondents said that they had witnessed an increase in the number of prenuptial agreements drawn up. The three most commonly covered areas were:

  • Protection of separately owned property
  • Division of marital property
  • Spousal support

Prenups can prevent future litigation and eliminate financial uncertainties, but they still carry negative connotations due to the number of myths that abound. One New York Times article was actually titled “If You Want a Prenup, You Don’t Want Marriage.” Below is a list of 4 of the most common myths and why they are invalid.

Myth No.1: Prenuptial agreements are only for the rich

The truth is that prenuptial agreements are appropriate for any couple. They are not merely about protecting wealth: prenups allow future spouses to decide the resolution of any problems in advance, which can prevent misunderstandings and expensive litigation. Drafting a prenup can actually deepen an upcoming marriage because it requires an honest discussion about assets and finances. By the time you’re at the altar, everything is out in the open between you and you may be closer as a result.

Myth No. 2: Prenuptial agreements only benefit the wealthier partner

This is a powerful myth: that a prenup is simply a way of stripping the spouse with fewer assets of his or her future rights. The reality is that unfair, one-sided prenuptial agreements are often thrown out in court. In Michigan, a prenup is only enforceable if it is fair, equitable, and reasonable under the circumstances.

Myth No. 3: Prenuptial agreements are not enforceable

There are times when courts do not enforce a prenuptial agreement, but this tends to be when the contract is unfair or the state rules and guidelines concerning the preparation of prenups are not followed. Another common reason why agreements are “thrown out of court” is because one spouse coerced or threatened the other into signing.

Myth No. 4: Premarital agreements “kill the romance”

It’s true that drafting a prenup is not the most romantic pre-wedding venture, but it doesn’t have to be the cloud behind your silver lining. When you and your future spouse work together to discuss and agree on the agreement’s terms, it can actually strengthen your relationship. Financial discussions will inevitably arise during the course of the marriage, and the prenup formation can help you master the art of discussing a challenging subject while remaining calm and respectful.

A fair and carefully crafted prenuptial agreement can strengthen your relationship, prepare you for the serious conversations that married couples have, and safeguard your respective financial futures. For assistance in drawing up a prenup that meets the needs of both parties, call Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC today.

~Originally Posted in January 2017~

A Personal Protection Order (PPO) is a court order intended to stop someone from threatening you with violence or acting on those threats. If you have reason to believe that your safety or freedom are at risk, you can apply to a Michigan court for a PPO.

Types of Michigan PPOs

The state recognizes three categories of PPO intended to protect you from threats, stalking, harassment, and violence. Which one you apply for depends on your circumstances and the person presenting the potential danger.

  • Domestic Relationship PPO: This type of protective order applies when you have a domestic relationship with the abuser. Examples include a current or former spouse, your child’s other parent, a current or former roommate, or someone you used to date. Once issued, a Domestic Relationship PPO prohibits the other party from entering your home, threatening or attacking you, removing your children if you have legal custody, and otherwise interfering with you. He or she may also be prohibited from buying or owning a firearm.
  • Non-Domestic (Stalking) PPO: The purpose of this PPO is to protect you from being stalked by someone who is not a past or current domestic associate. Once in place, the order may prohibit him or her from showing up repeatedly and unexpectedly at your home or workplace, sending you unwanted messages via phone or text, stalking you on social media, or even buying or owning a gun.
  • Non-Domestic (Sexual Assault) PPO: A sexual assault PPO is intended to protect you from someone with whom you do not have a domestic relationship and who has either been convicted of sexually assaulting you or has threatened to harm you in this way. If you are a minor, assault can also include exposing you to obscene material. The PPO can prohibit the abuser from coming to your house or other places you frequent, threatening to sexually assault or kill you, and otherwise interfering with you. He or she may also be prohibited from purchasing or owning a firearm.

Each type of PPO will contain the following details:

  • Confirmation that the order is effective immediately and enforceable throughout Michigan
  • A list of prohibited actions
  • The consequences of violating the order

How to Apply for a Michigan PPO

To apply for a PPO, you have to file a petition with the court. This document must go into detail about what the abuser has done in the past and why you fear for your safety. If you are worried that he or she may harm you if they find out you are asking for a PPO, you may request an ex parte order, which is an emergency measure that allows you to get the order without having to wait for a hearing.

If a hearing is required, it will be held within 21 days of the petition being filed. The abuser will receive a copy of the petition and a notice of the hearing so that he or she may respond to the allegations in the petition.

Once the PPO is signed, it can be enforced throughout the state. After it is served, it can be enforced anywhere in the country.

What If the Abuser Violates the PPO?

If a violation occurs, call the police and report it immediately. You may also file a Motion to Show Cause asking the court to penalize the abuser for violating the order. If he or she is found to have violated of the PPO they can be arrested and punished by up to 93 days in prison and / or be fined up to $500.

If you fear for your safety and need assistance in putting together a legally enforceable PPO, call Melissa Peace & Associates, PLC today.

~Originally published in December 2016~

One of the most complicated aspects of divorce is the division of marital property. Michigan is an equitable distribution state, meaning that all qualifying property will be divided “equitably”, or fairly. It is important to remember that in this instance, “fairly” doesn’t necessarily mean “equally.” If the couple cannot come to an agreement regarding property division, the court is required to divide the marital assets after taking several factors into account to determine what exactly is fair.

Marital vs. Separate Property

Marital property includes, but is not limited to, assets like the following:

  • Property that the couple purchased together
  • Retirement benefits earned during the course of the marriage
  • Each spouse’s income during the marriage period

Separate property, which is not subject to Michigan’s equitable distribution law, includes:

  • Property obtained by either spouse prior to the marriage
  • Inheritances received by one spouse
  • Personal injury awards
  • Gifts provided to one party

In some instances, property that was originally separate can be treated as marital for distribution purposes. For example, a bank account owned by one spouse while still single is separate property unless the other spouse also started using it to deposit their paychecks, pay bills, etc. Then, a judge may conclude that the account has been “commingled” and become part of the marital estate. If any item of separate property has increased in value during the marriage, that added value is also subject to equitable distribution.

How do Michigan courts determine what is ‘equitable’?

When determining how to divide marital property equitably, courts will consider factors like the following:

  • The duration of the marriage
  • The age and health of each party
  • Whether or not spousal support has been awarded
  • Whether or not the divorce has caused one party to lose access to health insurance or a pension
  • Any contributions one spouse made to support the career of the other
  • The likely financial state of each party in the future
  • Whether either spouse wastefully and deliberately dissolved marital assets

Equitable distribution ultimately aims to divide marital property in a fair manner, in order to ensure that each party receives a just outcome in a divorce action.

Divorcing couples can always opt to reach their own agreement on how marital property will be divided. This way, a court-ordered distribution will be bypassed and the marriage can end on a more amicable note.

Whether you and your spouse intend to settle property division matters out of court or let a judge make the decision for you, it is important to have an experienced family law attorney on your side. Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC will ensure that you understand your rights and help you to reach a favorable outcome, whether privately with your spouse or at trial.

~Originally published in October 2016~

When you decide to marry someone and share the rest of your life with that person, the thought of a prenuptial agreement sounds neither appealing nor romantic. That’s one reason why couples in love are hesitant to draw one up. Another is that society often equates ‘prenups’ with a high probability or even expectation of divorce. A third, equally prevalent assumption is that if you’re and/or your partner are not high net worth individuals, there’s no point going to the trouble and expense.

The reality is that a well-drafted prenuptial agreement does not turn a loving marriage into a cold and practical business relationship. It actually has unexpected benefits for each partner, separately and as a couple.

Set Financial Expectations

Drafting an agreement will give you and your partner the chance to discuss important marital issues such as property and finances. You can decide whether real estate and investments will be jointly owned or in one person’s name only, and how joint and separate bank accounts will be handled.

Money is a regular source of stress and disharmony among couples, so addressing financial issues in a prenuptial agreement helps establish mutually acceptable terms and get rid of unrealistic expectations. In that sense, prenups can reduce the possibility of a couple breaking up.

Establish Procedure for Future Disagreements

Marriages, both good and bad, are sure to include a significant amount of disagreement between spouses—especially when it comes to finances. Your prenuptial agreement allows you to pre-establish ground rules and procedures for how you will approach disagreements in the future. Having a set plan for addressing this type of discord can help you resolve any disagreements you have as amicably as possible and avoid the situation devolving into “irreconcilable differences.”

Improved Communications

Good marriages require strong communicating ability, but so many couples have difficulty discussing certain matters, including finances, property, and even their own needs and desires in the marriage. By sitting down together and establishing a prenuptial agreement, you and your partner will become more open with one another by necessity. This can lead to an improved communication pattern that reduces the possibility of future conflicts and tensions.

Drafting a prenuptial agreement can be complicated, as it must be in accordance with state law and contain certain criteria in order to be enforceable. To avoid mistakes that could potentially render the agreement unfair or invalid, you should seek advice and assistance from a skilled and experienced family law attorney. Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC will help you create a valid prenup that will set the foundation for a strong and communicative marriage.

~Originally posted in September of 2016~