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Family Law

Varnum takes care of protecting you, your children and your assets

Varnum’s Family Law Team is comprised of lawyers dedicated to achieving successful outcomes for individuals facing one of life’s most difficult circumstances. With over 100 years of combined experience, Varnum’s Family Law Team produces results by bringing an entrepreneurial spirit to each client’s case. With our strong work ethic, creativity and innovation, we strive to accomplish the goals of our clients, whether they are husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, business owners, executives or professionals.

No matter the complexity of the issues involved, we provide our undivided attention to each client. We work with clients of modest means as well as those with sophisticated estates. When you work with a Varnum attorney, you receive the benefit of working with a large law firm that offers corporate, tax, employment, and estate planning attorneys who assist when experience in any of these areas is required. In matters where a difficult relationship exists between spouses, our clients receive the benefit of working with attorneys who have experience in high-conflict situations, mental health disorders and domestic abuse.

Our goal is to assist clients in reaching fair settlements in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Our clients can be confident that if agreements cannot be reached, our Family Law Team will effectively and passionately represent their interests in the courtroom. Let Varnum be the law firm that takes care of protecting you, your children and your assets.


Varnum’s Family Law Team is experienced in handling contested and uncontested stepparent and adult adoptions in counties throughout Michigan. The most common adoption in Michigan is the stepparent adoption, which is available in two circumstances:

  1. The parents were married at the time of their child(ren)'s birth and were subsequently divorced. The custodial parent has remarried, and his or her new spouse wishes to adopt the child(ren) and is willing to assume financial responsibility for the child(ren).
  2. The parents were never married and the custodial parent has married someone else. His or her new spouse wishes to adopt the child(ren) and is willing to assume financial responsibility for the child(ren).

In the second circumstance, paternity may or may not have been established.

Consent of the biological, noncustodial parent is usually required for a stepparent adoption. However, a stepparent adoption can be completed over the objections of that parent by terminating his or her rights if he or she has “abandoned” the child. To “involuntarily” terminate the biological parent’s rights, Michigan statute requires that (a) the parent, having the ability to support, or assist in supporting, the child, has failed or neglected to provide regular and substantial support for the child, or if a support order has been entered, has failed to substantially comply with the order for a period of two years or more before the filing of the petition, AND (b) the parent, having the ability to visit, contact or communicate with the child, has regularly and substantially failed or neglected to do so for a period of two years or more before the filing of the petition.

Also, if the child is 14 years of age or older, the child’s consent to the stepparent adoption is required.

Varnum attorneys are experienced in both types of adoptions and can help guide you through the often-complicated process.

Business Valuations

Varnum’s Family Law Team has extensive training and experience ensuring that businesses are properly valued. We have worked with both small and large private and publicly held businesses in industries including tool and die, medical practices, dental practices, farming operations, car dealerships and more. A business is oftentimes the most important asset within an estate. It has both tangible and intangible meaning for a client. It can represent a client’s blood, sweat and tears. It can be an asset that a spouse wants preserved for purposes of establishing a legacy for future generations. 

With this in mind, from the moment that a business valuation expert is retained, Varnum lawyers work closely with our clients and the retained business valuation expert until completion of the reports is finalized. We respect your investment and treat these assets with the care and sensitivity they deserve.

Child Custody

This issue is often the most emotional and traumatic part of a divorce matter. Child custody has two components: legal custody, which establishes who is responsible for the major decisions regarding raising the child (education, religion, medical care, etc.), and physical custody, which establishes with whom the child primarily lives. The basis for determining child custody is “the best interests of the child.”

Sole or joint custody is possible for both of these types of custody. If a parent requests joint custody, the court is required to consider it and state on the record the reasons for granting or denying the request. The court shall determine whether joint custody is in the best interest of the child by considering the “best interest” factors and whether the parents will be able to cooperate and generally agree concerning important decisions affecting the welfare of the child. Joint custody will be awarded if both parties agree upon it, unless the court determines on the record, based upon clear and convincing evidence, that joint custody is not in the best interests of the child. If the parties cannot agree, this subject is best left to an in-depth discussion with your attorney due to the extensive nature of custody disputes and the laws involved.

Child Support

Child support is based mainly on the Child Support Formula Manual (the “Guidelines”). It is a formula relating to income and the number of overnights the child spends with each parent (or, in some cases, a third party). In addition, adjustments may be made for day care and health insurance costs. Child support is usually ordered until the child attains the age of 18 years or until the child graduates from high school, so long as the minor child has not yet reached 19 years and six months of age and regularly attends high school full time with a reasonable expectation of graduating. The child must also reside full time with the payee of support or at an institution. Child support is usually payable through income withholding from the payor’s employer. The Varnum Family Law Team is experienced in using creative solutions to deal with complex payment and income issues.


Divorce can be one of the most stressful events of a person’s life. Whether you are initiating the divorce or you are the spouse being sued for divorce, it is a time of considerable emotional upheaval. It is also a time when you will be called upon to make important decisions that will have lifelong effects on you and your family.

While information about marriage and family life is readily available from a variety of sources, divorce is almost always new territory for those involved. In addition, the “advice” that does exist is often not in your – or your family’s – best interest.

For the best outcome, it is essential that you receive excellent legal advice.

The family law attorneys at Varnum are committed to providing you with attentive, personal service. We work passionately to help you achieve your objectives and guide you through this stressful process.

With over 100 combined years of experience, we have a broad range of experience in all types of divorce situations and the matters surrounding them, and we provide you with the experience you need for resolving emotionally and financially sensitive issues.

Family Law Mediators and Arbitrators

Not all family law disputes are resolved through litigation. Many judges require a divorce matter to first undergo mediation, prior to a trial being held. Mediation is a method used to help the parties develop their own ideas and resolutions rather than having a judge impose a solution on the parties. In the mediation setting, the parties (and their attorneys, if they are represented) choose a neutral, trained mediator to help facilitate their confidential discussions toward resolution of their family law issues.

The Varnum Family Law Team includes trained and experienced mediators who can assist in resolving cases short of trial through facilitative mediation or evaluative mediation at any stage of a family law matter. Our mediators use their skills as negotiators and seasoned litigators to diligently and creatively help the parties come to a resolution of their disputes. We are experienced in handling matters that may involve a history of domestic violence as well as mental health issues. Varnum’s trained mediators have a proven track record of resolving disputes, thereby avoiding the need to attend trial.

Our team can also assist as neutral arbitrators for family law disputes. In divorce arbitration, a neutral, third-party arbitrator who is an expert in divorce law hears both sides of the dispute and determines the best way to settle some, if not all, of the matters between a couple ending their marriage. This may include the division and possession of property, division of retirement accounts and allocation of liabilities.

Another important benefit of divorce arbitration over divorce litigation is that the arbitration process can be tailored to meet the needs of the couple – something that will not be done in the court system. Normally, the arbitration process is less formal and more expeditious than a hearing or trial in a courtroom. The parties and the arbitrator will determine the issues submitted, the procedures for the arbitration, and whether the decision will be binding and final or nonbinding.

Fraud and Hidden Assets

Varnum’s Family Law Team is dedicated to uncovering all assets that have accumulated during a marriage for purposes of ensuring that our clients receive an equitable distribution of the estate. We are members of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, an organization committed to training individuals to detect and investigate fraud. Our Family Law Team has extensive experience and proven success in recovering undisclosed assets for clients, whether the spouse’s conduct is purposeful or not. Varnum’s Family Law Team works to ensure that your financial security is protected.

Litigation Services

Varnum’s Family Law Team serves clients in virtually every county in Michigan. We strive early on in a matter to work amicably with the other side for purposes of securing a fair and equitable settlement, without the necessity of trial. Varnum has proven results in negotiating settlement agreements that are beneficial to our clients. In the event that a settlement agreement cannot be reached, however, our clients can count on having lawyers who are not only well-versed and comfortable in the courtroom, but also passionate for their cause. Varnum’s family law attorneys have extensive trial experience and have achieved successful outcomes for our clients.

Varnum’s Family Law Team also has significant experience in filing appeals with the Michigan Court of Appeals. We have argued appeals before Michigan Court of Appeals judges in Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids. Most importantly, Varnum family law lawyers have a strong record of achieving successful outcomes for our clients at the appellate level.

Mental Health and Family Law

While divorce can be emotionally challenging and draining, it is intensified for clients facing the breakup of a relationship with a partner who has a serious mental illness or personality disorder. If a parent is unwell, there may be an impact on his or her ability to manage the challenges of daily family life. Additionally, affected parents may be unaware of their child’s needs or the risk of harm to the child. The mental health and well-being of the children and adults in a family where a parent is mentally ill are intimately linked.

It is important that your legal counsel be able to think beyond a diagnosis and inquire as to whether there is any nexus between a parent’s serious mental illness and his or her ability to parent. It is essential to examine how the manifestation of a serious mental illness impacts daily functioning as a parent. It is especially important to reach an understanding of how a parent’s mental health affects a child, whether the child feels safe and whether the parent’s mental illness is resulting in potential long-term effects on the child.

In cases where domestic violence is a factor, whether as a result of a mental health issue or the result of a power and control dynamic, Varnum’s family law attorneys are sensitive to the needs of clients who need to successfully negotiate a safe exit from an abusive relationship. This includes, but is not limited to, the use of personal protection orders.

Varnum’s Family Law Team has deep knowledge and experience in handling these sensitive issues while remaining passionate advocates for you. Our team is dedicated to navigating these potentially high-conflict cases with our clients and finding solutions that work for parents and children.

Paternity and Revocations

Having children outside of marriage has become an accepted alternative in today’s society. Indeed, more than half of births to American women under age 30 occur outside of marriage. Celebrities, athletes and couples from all walks of life have elected to have children without the formality of marriage. The Michigan Parentage Act seeks to address the rights and responsibilities of unmarried parents and their children by providing for recognition of a parent-child relationship, as well as tackling the issues of support, custody and parenting time.

Varnums family law attorneys are adept at handling contested as well as agreed paternity, support and custody matters with discretion and skill. Our experience in navigating complex parentage cases is unparalleled.

Spousal Support

Spousal support, also called alimony, is a sum of money usually paid by one spouse for the support and maintenance of the other. Unlike child support, which is calculated according to a formula, spousal support is decided on a case-by-case basis. The factors the court considers in awarding spousal support are:

  1. Past relations and conduct of the parties (fault)
  2. Length of the marriage
  3. Ability of the parties to work and their respective incomes
  4. Source and amount of property awarded to the parties
  5. Ability of the parties to pay spousal support
  6. Present situation of the parties
  7. Needs of the parties
  8. Health of the parties
  9. Prior standard of living of the parties and if either is responsible for the support of others
  10. Age and educational level of the person claiming spousal support

Regular or periodic spousal support is modifiable at any time. Spousal support may be increased, decreased or canceled based on showing a change in circumstances that warrants a modification. When limitations are placed in the judgment regarding modification – whether amount or duration – specific language is necessary to ensure that the court will honor these limitations.

Varnums Family Law Team regularly negotiates innovative and creative ways of structuring a spousal support award for both the payor of spousal support and the recipient, taking into account the current tax consequences and restrictions of such an award, discounting and buyouts.

“I was very pleased with the professionalism and compassion with which my case was handled.”

Client, US News – Best Lawyers® Best Law Firms

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