Undoing the “I Do”

BY ERIN K. DOERING

One of the areas I practice in is divorce law. I have handled several divorces in my relatively short career as an attorney (almost six years) and I have come across a similar argument in two of them – covenant versus contract.

What do I mean by covenant versus contract?

Well, in most religions marriage is considered a sacrament – a covenant between the couple being married and God. For those who are sincere in their beliefs this covenant is sacred and cannot be interfered with by Man.

And then we have law and what the law says about marriage. In Michigan, a marriage is treated as a contract. This contract can be entered into by consenting adults and dissolved as needed. Additionally, Michigan goes a step further and is what is known as a ‘no-fault divorce’ state.

What do I mean when I say Michigan is a ‘no-fault divorce’ state?

If you are Michigan resident you may already be familiar with the term ‘no-fault’ because Michigan is a ‘no-fault’ automobile insurance state. However, ‘no-fault divorce’ has nothing to do with insurance. ‘No-fault’ in the divorce world is a rather nifty bit of law that occasionally comes in very handy when looking to obtain a judgment of divorce.

In general, a divorce may be granted if one party states there has been a breakdown in the martial relationship to the point that there is no reasonable hope of salvaging it (I am paraphrasing but I think you get the idea). In a ‘no-fault divorce’ state like Michigan the person seeking the divorce does not have to and is, in fact, prohibited from putting any specifics on the record regarding who was at fault of the marriage failing or giving reasons why they want a divorce. The State of Michigan has decided that if a person wants a divorce they are entitled to a divorce and there is no standard they have to meet or reason they have to give to obtain a divorce. Fault and reasons for the breakdown of the marriage may come into play if there are minor children involved or there are requests for monetary support but those are not issues typically hashed out on the record during the Pro Confesso  or ‘Pro Con’ hearing (Pro Con being the name of the hearing usually associated with the entering of the final judgment of divorce).

Why is the ‘no-fault divorce’ important?

The ‘no-fault divorce’ is, in practical application, a means to streamline the divorce proceeding as well as a way to thwart a disgruntled or unrealistic person from holding up the judgment of divorce based on purely emotional arguments. I lump the idea of covenant versus contract into the emotional arguments category because it has no basis in the current laws of the State of Michigan. Judges will sometimes hear out a religious objection to divorce but they will still grant the divorce as long as the proper statutory procedures have been followed. Why? Because there is no statutory or case law basis to support an object to a judgment of divorce based on the objector’s religious beliefs.

Remember how I stated in Michigan marriages are treated as contracts? The dissolving of the marriage contract is treated the same as all other contracts – if a party wants out 9 times out of 10 they’re going to get out unless there is a sound legal argument against the dissolution.

There is certainly nothing wrong with holding religious beliefs. However, when the marriage just isn’t working out and you are served with a Summons and Complaint for Divorce you need to eventually get around to accepting reality and see the case for what it is – the ending of a partnership. If you are having a hard time accepting a divorce because of your religious beliefs you should consult with your pastor, reverend, etc. and see what needs to be included in any Judgment of Divorce to mitigate any religious issues in terms of re-marriage and sacraments. You should also consult with an attorney licensed in the state where the divorce is filed as soon as you are served with the Summons and Complaint for Divorce. There are timelines that must be followed if you are going to raise any objections to the divorce.

Remember – just because your marriage is ending in divorce doesn’t mean the world is coming to an end. It is a cruddy situation and no one expects you to feel good about getting divorced but after the initial, emotion-fueled reaction you need to take a step back and view the matter in a rational manner. Just because you don’t want a divorce doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get a divorce. Telling the Court you object to and will not consent to a divorce because of your religious beliefs will not stop the Court from entering a judgment of divorce. If one party wants a divorce then there is going to be a divorce – that’s just the way it is in Michigan.

My advice to a defendant in a divorce action would be to immediately consult with an attorney who is licensed in the state the divorce action is filed in. From there I would highly recommend retaining an attorney who can assist you in the process. An attorney doesn’t have an emotional stake in the divorce action and can often see reality with more clarity than a husband or a wife who is devastated after being served with divorce papers. A family law/divorce attorney can help you navigate through the Court system and fully represent your best interests when you may not be able to see what is right in front of you because of how emotional divorce can be. Your attorney may even be able to suggest ideas regarding how to handle the religious implications.

Undoing the ‘I do’ is usually way more complicated and costly than the ‘I do’ but sometimes it is the best option for all involved. Divorce isn’t a pleasant or easy process but with the right people in your corner you can make it through. And, at the end of the day, do you really want to stay married to someone who has made it clear they no longer want to be married to you?

Of course, all of my advice and comments are for information purposes only. This blog is not about legal advice and there is no attorney client relationship here.

My two cents worth. Take them as you will.

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Don’t Settle

BY ERIN K. DOERING

As I sit here, doing battle with my eternal enemy known as insomnia (and not being able to beat the final level in my latest video game foil) whilst my husband-to-be snoozes in the other room, I am struck with an idea for a post – a post about the Michigan Secretary of State’s little secret.

Over the weekend I met with a young person who had been pulled over and was facing a traffic misdemeanor. Unfortunately, she had already plead ‘guilty’ to the misdemeanor so there was not a whole lot I could do but it got me thinking (a very dangerous thing) once again about how there are a set of criminal laws and then we have the Secretary of State and their rules and regulations. Most people who pick up a ticket for driving while license suspended or with expired insurance do not realize that these infractions are misdemeanors – misdemeanors with lasting consequences because of how criminal law and the Secretary of State are seemingly at odds with each other in Michigan.

Unlike most any other misdemeanor in Michigan, traffic misdemeanors follow you forever. FOREVER. Michigan law prohibits the expungement of traffic misdemeanors. Similarly, none of the diversion or conviction suppression methods such as the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (for first time offenders within a certain age group) or 7411 (division and special probation for first time drug offenders) are available to a person with a traffic misdemeanor on their record.

In short – once you have been convicted or plead ‘guilty’ to a traffic misdemeanor in Michigan you have a ‘friend’ for life. Our current system does not permit these misdemeanors to be treated in the same way as other misdemeanors – you carry them through your life like a scarlet letter and anyone who runs a background check on you or looks at you driving record will see them.

Years ago, no one cared about misdemeanor convictions. Now, they can make all the difference – between getting that job you really want and getting a rejection letter. Employers in Michigan are increasingly using misdemeanor convictions as a means to cull applicant pools. While the best advice is to not break the law to begin with sometimes life happens and Mr. Policeman comes a-callin’.

If you are a first time offender you often have options and ways to avoid a traffic misdemeanor conviction. In my humble opinion you should never plead ‘guilty’ to a misdemeanor or felony which may be related to driving without first consulting with an attorney licensed by the state in which the offense occurred. Most attorneys offer free or low cost consults so there is no reason not to reach out to someone and explore your options.

Of course, all of my advice and comments are for information purposes only. This blog is not about legal advice and there is no attorney client relationship here. However, I believe the general public needs to know more about how traffic offenses can impact their lives for years to come and perhaps there is a need for change with regard to how we handle traffic offenses in Michigan.

My two cents worth. Take them as you will.

Warehousing the Problem

BY ERIN K. DOERING

For a long time I have been told that I should write about my work as an attorney. I have been told I am something of a good storyteller. I will leave you, the reader, to decide at to whether I am able to weave a good yarn or my words are more appropriately associated with ‘yawn’.

One thing this blog will not be is organized. I plan on writing here as I think – many tabs open at the same time and random thoughts abounding.

Any ways –

An attorney’s stock and trade is in language. Our use of language – spoken or written – is why we are paid. We are looked at by non-attorneys as ‘smarty pants’. But are we worthy of this praise? The answer to that question depends on who you ask (and whether or not you are answering the question while behind jail bars). I have found that opinions on attorneys become far more favorable the when one’s liberty is at stake than when one is sitting in the comfort of their own home, surfing the internet. Is this unfair? To my way of thinking the change of opinion depending on the circumstances is not unfair or unreasonable. People don’t go to the doctor (generally) unless something is wrong – the same may be said of attorneys.

So what is the point of the random statements above? They are my observations. This blog is not going to tell you how to get out of a parking ticket or how to write a land contract. The purpose of this blog is and will be to make the reader think. This blog will consist of my musings and observations along with the occasional bit of story time. Sure, I’ll also throw in general advice here and there but this will not be a solely educational blog.

As to the name of this blog – Warehousing the Problem –

I picked this name because it reflects what I see all too often as a criminal defense attorney – we warehouse problems in jail and prison. We are forever kicking the proverbial can down the road when all we do is react to bad things happening – in this case, criminal behavior. What if we invested time on the front end and educated young people about what happens when they get pulled over or get caught drinking underage or get caught smoking pot? Or what if we decided that once people are in the system for whatever criminal offense you want to think of we try to figure out the best way to keep that person from coming back to the system?

Problem-solving courts in Michigan are steps in the right direction but I believe we can and should do more. Most people who have criminal records are not bad people – they just made bad choices. What good do we do when we saddle a young person with a criminal record for a minor offense and they become unemployable? A criminal conviction slams a lot of doors in the face of a lot of people. When a person cannot see a light and only ever hears ‘no’ then they get desperate. Desperate people do desperate things including more criminal behavior and more criminal behavior equals more crime victims.

At the end of the day we are still warehousing people in jail and prison because we don’t ask why those people are in jail or prison to begin with. Sometimes the first time someone gets connected with proper physical and mental healthcare is when they enter the criminal justice system. We have to do something with that. Most inmates will eventually get out of jail or prison. The convicted do not go away forever – most of them will eventually be back in our communities and we need to figure out how we are going to keep them from further criminal behavior once they are free.

We cannot continue to think that incarceration is the way to prevent criminal behavior. We must punish bad behavior but then we must also make attempts to rehabilitate. If we continue as we have in the past – just putting people in jail or prison and leaving the problem of their release for another day or generation – we will merely be warehousing the problem instead of solving the problem.