Not only is it possible that at some point a divorce judgment may be modified, it is fairly likely. Parents may need to move for job changes, child support amounts may need to be amended depending upon the needs of the child or the circumstances of the parent, and parenting plans may need tweaking. All of these changes and others are handled through a request filed with the court to modify the current judgment. Modifications can be filed for child support, child custody, parenting time, and spousal support.

What is it exactly?

To understand post-judgment modifications, it is important to know what your judgment actually sets forth to start. For example, your parenting plan may be extremely specific as to times and dates of custody and scheduling. On the other hand, the plan could merely state that the parties will share reasonable and regular parenting time. In the former case, a modification of the judgment parenting plan would likely be required even for minor changes to the parenting plan. In the latter, modification may not be required at all if the changes still fit within the reasonable and regular parenting time schedule.

When can you make a modification?

If a modification does need to be made, a motion to modify must be made with the requisite initial showing of the moving party that there is a good reason for the change. In child support modification cases, there must be a “substantial change of circumstances” to justify the change. Changes that would qualify as substantial include a parent losing a job, a parent becoming employed or getting a raise, the cost of raising the child has increased, or a change in custody arrangements. Note that Michigan prohibits retroactive changes in child support, so the sooner after the change in circumstances you file a modification request, the better.

In cases where spousal

 support has been awarded, it is possible to modify the award where circumstances have changed. However, if the parties agreed in the original decree that the spousal support judgment would be non-modifiable, the judgment cannot be modified, even in situations where there has been a dramatic change in circumstances. Where the parties have not agreed that the judgment is not modifiable, then petitions can be made to modify the spousal support if there has been a change of circumstances. Qualifying changes include an increase or decrease in the income of the payor or illness of the recipient spouse. The ex-spouse seeking the change bears the burden of proof to show that the change is warranted, but can only be entitled to retroactive modification dating back to the date that the motion to modify is filed.

Contact Us

If you are looking to modify a judgment of child support, spousal support, or something similar, the best place to start is by contacting a qualified and knowledgeable Michigan family law attorney, such as an attorney with Melissa Pearce & Associations, PLC. Our attorneys provide compassionate, efficient, and high quality representation in a wide range of family law matters and are ready to help you. Call us at (248) 676-8976 today.

~Originally Published in november 2017~

Domestic violence is still far too common and misunderstood in our society. Yet, it can be a difficult topic to discuss and even harder to spot. Women and men who are suffering from domestic violence will not likely come right out and admit it, either for fear of reprisal or because they themselves are not fully aware. One of the first steps to combating domestic violence, however, is to know what to look for.

1) The person is withdrawing. Domestic violence is not always physical violence. Often times, it can be emotional or mental abuse wherein one partner works to dominate and control the other partner. They will use fear, shame, and guilt to manipulate and isolate the other partner from their support systems and those who might be able to figure out what is going on. They will blame the other partner for the abuse, humiliate and yell at the other partner, and limit their access to the phone, the car, and money. Women are more likely to be victims, but they too can be perpetrators, particularly with verbal and emotional abuse.

2) The person has unexplained injuries. Most people will have bumps and bruises from benign events that do not raise eyebrows. Where those bumps and bruises become more common and are in places that are unusual, the possibility of some sort of physical violence in the home goes up. This is especially true if the person is also withdrawing from friends and family and giving vag

ue and unconvincing explanations for recent scrapes and injuries.

3) The person is fearful. Fear is an abuser’s most potent weapon in establishing and maintaining control over another partner. There can be fear of physical or sexual violence, as well as fear that the abuser will take away the partner’s children. There is also fear of the abuser’s uncontrollable temper or threats to commit suicide if the person should leave. Not surprisingl

y, this fear will likely spill over into all other aspects of the person’s life.

4) They are being worn down by the stress. Living with an abuser can be extremely stressful. Hypervigilance about staying on the abuser’s “good side”, or not making them angry, or just keeping the children safe means that the person may not be sleeping very much or eating. They may have unexplained headaches, digestive problems, asthma, or back pain. These are directly related to the constant stress of being in an abusive relationship and may be far more telling than any other factor that something is terribly wrong.

Domestic Violence and Gun Ownership in Michigan

If you are a victim of domestic violence, there are safe places in Michigan that can help you including First Step Shelter. If you are safe, but need legal guidance on how to extricate yourself from the relationship or to ensure the safety of your children, trust the attorneys at Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC who will handle your case with compassion and efficiency. Call us at (248) 676-8976 today.With respect to gun ownership and domestic violence, Michigan has neither the strictest nor the most lax laws in the United States. Anyone convicted of domestic violence or domestic assault in Michigan is prohibited from applying for a concealed pistol license for eight years after the conviction. Even then, the judge in the case has broad discretion to add additional restrictions on an individual’s ability to purchase, carry, transport, or possess any firearm.

~Originally Published in November 2017~

Children are often portrayed as the losers in divorce because the assumption is that they would be better off with two parents in the same household, rather than shuffling between homes, or worse, being used as a pawn in the larger divorce fight. However, it is possible for divorce to be beneficial for children. Here’s how.

1) Happier adults make happier children. If two people together are truly miserable, that misery will inevitably cascade onto the children of the marriage. The children may be brought into the overall unhappiness between the partners and be asked to take sides. Divorce in this case can free all of the parties from this tension because it allows the adults to remove the main stressor from their lives and start working on a new life. There are huge caveats, of course, namely that this process may take some time for everyone, but in the end, the net benefits of happiness can outweigh everything else.

2) You can teach your kids a really valuable lesson on working together. One of the hardest skills to master as an adult is being able to work effectively toward a common goal with someone who is diametrically opposed to them. Couples who divorce and then co-parent have a rich opportunity to show their children how to work with someone else with whom they may not get along with or even necessarily like. Modeling this incredibly difficult skill for your children will pay off for them down the road as they begin to navigate the world as adults.

3) You can teach your children about respect. There is a reason divorcing parents are counseled not to speak badly of their partner or future co-parent. This is partly because just divorce may end the relationship on paper, but the parties will still need to work together to parent. But, the other reason is that how a parent talks about their co-parent teaches their children how to treat people from all walks of life, even those they may not like at all. It also models to them how to be an adult in a relationship, even if that relationship goes sour. These are invaluable skills for your children to pick up when they get older.

4) They might get two extra parents out of the deal. Step-parents get a bad rap many times. They step into what can be a fraught situation and try to make the best of it. Sometimes, though, the partners that co-parents find themselves with can enhance the lives of the children involved. In the best case scenario, a child can get an additional two parents who are loving and supportive of them.

5) They end up with more one-on-one time with both parents. Assuming divorcing parents opt for joint custody and the children move between homes, it is very possible that the children will be able to have to time to develop a closer relationship with either parent since the other parent is no longer there during visits.

Divorce is never easy and certainly not for the children involved. However, it is possible for silver linings to be found in the numerous clouds both for you and for your children. If you are getting divorced or looking at divorce, contact Melissa Pearce and let her help you navigate the process. She has been where you are and understands what you are going through and what you need. Contact her today to get started.

~Originally Posted in August 2017~

School is out and chances are your kids are looking forward to a lot of sun, swimming, and zero homework. You may not be looking forward to summer, however, because without the schedule of school, your co-parenting arrangements may need to change or at least be altered temporarily. How do you handle vacations? Camp? Here are some tips on effectively co-parenting this summer.

1) Plan and plan. Summer camps start filling up in early spring, so this is a great time to sit down with your co-parent or mediator and devise a summer schedule. Figure out your vacation plans now‚ even if it is just to set aside a week or two on the calendar, and ask your co-parent to do the same. Depending upon how old your children are and their interests, you should also work out what exactly they’re going to be doing over the summer. Even doing nothing requires planning since they still need to have a place and a person with them while they are doing nothing. Again, get with your co-parent and figure out who will have the kids and when. If your parenting agreement states that one parent gets the kids for the entire summer, there still may be some flexibility in terms of getting a little time in with them.

2) Ask the kids what they want. If the children are old enough, ask them what their preference is for the summer. Ideally, this should not be an open-ended question but more of a list of choices and let them choose. Of course, the older the child, the more independent they may be, so this may not be as much of an issue.

3) Go in together on cost. Kids are expensive and a lot of that comes from activities, swim lessons, camps, and vacations. If you can, work out with your co-parent who will pick up what so that no one parent is spending a fortune without the other pitching in. Of course, this may already be spelled out in your parenting agreement in which case, go back and confirm that it is still a good distribution of financial responsibility.

4) Go with the flow. Co-parenting is as much about give and take as any other relationship. If your co-parent is dying to take the kids to Disney on a particular date and you were thinking about something else for them, be flexible and consider giving up your date so they can go. It’s also important to take into consideration that your kids are already having some adjustment issues due to school being over and they may not be seeing their friends as often. Take this into account as well as another reason to be flexible.

5) Don’t overdo it. If your co-parent is determined to take the kids to Paris, try not to take them to Rome too. Most divorced couples don’t have this problem, either from a financial perspective or an emotional one, but the desire may be there just the same to out-do the other parent in terms of showing the kids a good time. As always, this time is not about the parents, it’s about the children. They want to spend meaningful time with their parent, not watch an escalation of old battles and jealousies.

If you have questions about your co-parenting agreement, especially as it relates to the summer time, we are ready to help you understand your rights and craft an agreement that works for you and your co-parent. Contact us today to get started.

~Originally Posted in July 2017~

A child may bear a striking resemblance to a man and everyone can tell he is the child’s father, but unless that man was married to the child’s mother at the time of the birth or conception, the law does not consider the man to be the child’s legal father. Welcome to the world of paternity, or as it’s known in Michigan: lawful fatherhood.

While paternity laws work automatically when the parents are married to each other, this is not the case when the couple is unmarried. With the rate of children born out of wedlock increasing, it is vitally important to know how these children are recognized by the state because it is through this recognition that those children get legal access to both parents and government services and benefits.

Unmarried couples who have children together must take that extra step to establish paternity because under the law, the child has no legal father without it. The good news is that establishing paternity for unmarried couples is fairly straightforward in Michigan. They can do it voluntarily by agreeing to name the father of the child via an affidavit that is duly signed and sworn before a notary. These couples can even do it for free in the hospital when the child is born. Of course, it can be done later as well, but it will require the reissuance of a birth certificate for the child. These couples can also establish paternity by asking a court to decide paternity. In this situation, the court will usually order a DNA test to determine definitively who the father of the child is.

If a couple does take the affidavit route toward establishing paternity, they are also agreeing to certain conditions. Some examples of these conditions may be that the mother has custody of the child unless there is another agreement in writing, that both parents will be notified if one parent wants the child to be adopted by a third party, that both parents must provide support for the child, and that the parents lose their right to a DNA test to definitely establish paternity or have a trial to establish paternity.

No matter how paternity is established, however, it is incredibly important to get it done as soon as possible in the child’s life. This is because a child has a better chance of success in life with two parents supporting them, and establishing paternity gives fathers an opportunity to share in the care of their child. A father who establishes paternity via affidavit is also entitled to file a claim for custody or parenting time. The child can also become legally entitled to benefits from both parents including insurance policies, veterans’ benefits, retirement benefits, pensions, inheritances, and disability benefits.

If there is uncertainty as to whether the man is actually the child’s father, it is best not to proceed using an affidavit because once paternity has been established, it can be almost impossible to reverse it—even if there are DNA tests proving that the father listed on the affidavit is not the real father. Mothers who are uncertain as to the paternity of their child should consider having the court establish paternity via DNA testing to be absolutely certain.

While the law grants parental rights via paternity affidavits, it can also take them away via termination of parental rights. Termination of rights is extremely difficult and this is made so purposely to make it an option of last resort. Termination severs all parental ties, including for purposes of inheritance, benefits, and other legal rights.

If you have questions about paternity or parenting rights in Michigan, contact Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC. We can help you understand the applicable state laws and get the best resolution for you and your family.

~Originally Posted in June 2017~

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~