Practice Areas

Full-Service Family Law Representation

Collaborative Practice Institute of Michigan logoFrom the time a client walks through the door until their divorce is finalized (and following divorce, in the event of post-judgment parenting time and property enforcement matters), Elizabeth and Katherine will guide the client through the various phases of whatever path their family law case may take.

Elizabeth and Katherine are skilled litigators and have taken dozens of cases to trial. Elizabeth and Katherine are pragmatic negotiators and creative thinkers, making settlement the result in the vast majority of their cases.

Mediation of Family Law Disputes

Elizabeth and Katherine are trained mediators and on the Washtenaw County Trial Court’s panel of approved mediators. Elizabeth has mediated hundreds of cases for parties—both with and without attorneys.

Mediation can occur at any stage of a dispute. Kitchen Sharkey can assist parties at the beginning states of dispute, or on the eve of trial. Learn more about mediation.


Divorce is inherently difficult. The attorneys at Kitchen Sharkey understand you are facing some of the most difficult decisions in your life as you dissolve your marriage. In our first consultation, we will help you understand the road ahead and set realistic expectations. Throughout the entire process, we will work to ensure your voice is heard and guide you through the ups and downs.

Separate Maintenance (Legal Separation)

Sometimes, divorce is not the right option for your family. Kitchen Sharkey helps families that wish to dissolve their marital estate and make decisions for their children but who also wish to remain legally married.

Custody and Parenting Time

While most custody and parenting time issues are settled outside of court, the “best interest” factors still guide negotiations and settlement.

Michigan law has two different sets of best interest factors that judges consider when deciding custody and parenting time.

The “custody” factors apply to how decisions are made for your children (legal custody), and whether the children’s best interests are served by living primarily with one parent (physical custody):

Factor (a) The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.

Factor (b) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue educating and raising the child in the child’s religion or creed, if any.

Factor (c) The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, and medical care or other remedial care recognized under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other material needs.

Factor (d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of continuing it.

Factor (e) The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.

Factor (f) The moral fitness of the parties involved.

Factor (g) The mental and physical health of the parties involved.

Factor (h) The child’s home, school, and community record.

Factor (i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the judge considers the child to be old enough to express a preference.

Factor (j) The willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent or the child and the parents. A judge may not consider negatively for the purposes of this factor any reasonable action taken by a parent to protect a child or that parent from sexual assault or domestic violence by the child’s other parent.

Factor (k) Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against or witnessed by the child.

Factor (l) Any other factor the judge considers relevant.

Parenting Time:
Parenting time is the actual schedule parents use to share time with their children. Often, parents share “equal” parenting time, and the children go back and forth between each household spending equal time in each household.

Michigan law states that parenting time should be ordered in a frequency and duration to promote a strong relationship between the parent and the child. Parenting time is the right of the child, not of the parent.

Ideally, parents develop and agree on a schedule that will work for their kids. Kids who spend time in two households thrive when parents can be harmonious about the back and forth.

However, if parents cannot agree, judges decide a parenting time schedule based on two sets of factors. First, they look at the custody “best interest” factors.

Judges also look at a separate set of factors that is specific just to parenting time:

Factor (a) Any special needs of the child;

Factor (b) Whether the child is nursing;

Factor (c) Whether abuse or neglect of a child during parenting time is likely;

Factor (d) Whether abuse of a parent during parenting time is likely;

Factor (e) The inconvenience and impact on the child of traveling for parenting time;

Factor (f) Whether a parent is reasonably likely to exercise parenting time;

Factor (g) Whether a parent has frequently failed to exercise reasonable parenting time;

Factor (h) The threatened or actual detention of the child with the intent to retain or conceal the child from the other parent or from a third person who has legal custody. A custodial parent’s temporary residence with the child in a domestic violence shelter shall not be construed as evidence of the custodial parent’s intent to retain or conceal the child from the other parent;

Factor (i): Any other relevant factors.

Michigan Parenting Time Guideline
In February 2021, the Michigan State Court Administrative Office published “Michigan Parenting Time Guideline.” These guidelines are a tool families can use to create a parenting time schedule. These guidelines are not laws. If your case goes to trial, the judge is still required to make findings according to the above-listed best interest factors.

Spousal Support

Spousal support (alimony) may be appropriate in cases where there is a significant income discrepancy between spouses, depending on the length of the marriage. Spousal support can be an important bridge for someone who has been out of the workforce for a period of time.

Spousal support comes in many forms:

  • Non-modifiable spousal support can be non-modifiable as to amount (i.e. monthly payment) AND duration (i.e. how many months or years payments are made) or duration only. Non-modifiable spousal support as to both amount and duration means that you and your spouse agree to a specific amount of support for a specific number of years and that agreement cannot be changed even if one party’s circumstances change after the signing of the agreement. Non-modifiable as to duration only means that you and your spouse agree to a specific time period during which spousal support will be paid, but you also agree that in the event of a change of circumstance (e.g. someone gets a raise) the amount can change.
  • Modifiable: the amount of spousal support you agree on in your settlement or the length of time that the spousal support is paid (or both) can change if someone’s circumstances change.
  • Alimony in gross, or “lump sum” spousal support: the recipient of spousal support receives a sum of money, in addition to their property settlement, instead of monthly spousal support.

If you and your spouse cannot agree on spousal support, a judge will review 12 factors and give each of them the weight that the judge believes is appropriate:

  1. Past relations and conduct*
  2. Length of the marriage
  3. Ability to work
  4. Source and amount of property awarded to the parties
  5. The parties’ ages
  6. Ability to pay spousal support
  7. Present situation of both parties
  8. The needs of both parties
  9. The health of both parties
  10. The prior standard of living of the parties and whether the parties support others
  11. The parties’ contributions to the joint estate
  12. General principles of equity

*Michigan is a “no fault” divorce state, which means that you do not need to allege your spouse did something wrong in order to get a divorce. However, when judges consider an award of spousal support, they can (and often do) consider one person’s behavior during the marriage.

Domestic Violence/Personal Protection Orders

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you are not alone.
Leaving a violent relationship can be challenging. The lawyers at Kitchen Sharkey are skilled advocates on behalf of survivors of domestic violence and their children.

In Washtenaw County, Safehouse is a resource for families:
24-hour hotline: (734) 995-5444

If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.

Personal protection orders:
You can ask a judge to enter an order that requires your abuser to stay away from you. This type of order is called a “personal protection order” (PPO).

You do not need a lawyer to file for a PPO. Many courthouses have staff at the courthouse that help individuals complete the paperwork without lawyers.

For more information on domestic violence law in Michigan:

Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements are contracts signed by both spouses in advance of a wedding. These types of agreements can cover a variety of topics but are most often used to determine what a financial settlement will look like if the marriage fails. Prenuptial agreements are a good tool if you wish to establish and maintain as separate the property you are bringing into the marriage.

The law governing prenuptial and postnuptial agreements is extremely complicated. If you are considering such an agreement, legal counsel is critical. The lawyers at Kitchen Sharkey are skilled prenuptial agreement drafters and negotiators.

Parenting Coordinator/Guardian ad Litem

Elizabeth and Katherine are frequently retained by colleagues to serve investigatory and advisory roles in contentious custody and parenting time cases. Katherine’s background in social work as a child welfare caseworker prior to law school makes her uniquely suited to advocate for kids embroiled in difficult custody matters.

Collaborative Divorce

Elizabeth and Katherine are both trained as collaborative divorce attorneys. The collaborative model provides a framework to bring in neutral experts such as financial planners and mental health professionals to guide the attorneys and parties to a resolution that works for their family without litigation.

For more information on collaborative practice:

Limited Scope Engagements

The lawyers at Kitchen Sharkey frequently work as “consultants” when individuals do not wish to hire a lawyer for full-service representation. A limited scope engagement may consist of document review, assistance with drafting, or even entry of a “limited” appearance in cases.

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