Currently, when you file for divorce in Michigan, the case title in the Complaint for Divorce reads, “JOHN SMITH, Plaintiff vs. JANE SMITH, Defendant.”
Versus. A loaded word meaning “against.” A search for synonyms suggested “Hostile to” or “unsympathetic to” or “at cross purposes.” Really? Most people I work with, who face the devastating recognition that their marriage is not going to endure, would not describe themselves as “hostile to” one another. Angry in low moments? Yes. But fundamentally they usually want to protect their children’s happy childhoods and don’t want to further destroy their family through hostility and lengthy court wrangling.
So they work hard through mediation, collaborative law or attorney assisted negotiation and directly with one another at their kitchen tables. They compromise, talk, feel angry and hurt, talk some more and reach an agreement. And then they have to file court papers stating that one of them is hostile to the other.
I have been bemoaning this fact for 25 years. It just didn’t square with the majority of people ending marriages. Some perhaps, just not most. But as of April 1, 2019 it doesn’t have to be that way. Thanks to a couple of new court rules.[i]
Couples who’ve already signed an agreement, or those using the collaborative process to develop an agreement, may file a Petition (not a “Complaint”) as Party A AND Party B. No longer does there have to be a court document declaring we are against or hostile to one another. No longer will one spouse be referred to as “defendant” and the other “plaintiff.”
I confess I am a little over the moon about this. Couples who tried valiantly to make their marriage work and then tried equally valiantly to divorce with dignity and respect can now have official court documents reflect their hard work.
Deborah Bennett Berecz
[i]MI Court Rules 3.222 and 3.223.