The family division of the Michigan circuit court system is responsible for hearing family law and domestic cases, including divorce, child support and child custody. When people enter into a family law matter in Michigan, they often imagine that they will have the opportunity to give the judge all the information that they feel is important. Unfortunately, the reality is a bit different. The court dockets are crowded, and judges simply don’t have the ability to listen to everything a litigant might want to present. To help make sure the courts get the information they need to make important decisions regarding families, the Michigan Friend of the Court offers assistance.
If you are involved in a Michigan family law matter involving minor children, you are already familiar with the Friend of the Court, but you might not fully understand their role, or how they affect your case. Let’s talk about what you need to know when dealing with the Michigan Friend of the Court.
What is the Friend of the Court?
The Friend of the Court (FOC) is an agency of the court that gathers information for the court regarding child support, child custody, and parenting time matters. When someone files a case in their county circuit court that affects a child, like a divorce involving minor children, they will be assigned to an individual FOC employee and will work with that person throughout their case.
Among other things, the FOC will investigate the facts of your case and make recommendations about custody, parenting time, and support, including medical support. The investigation includes information you and the other parent provide through filling out forms and in-person interviews.
Ignoring a request from the FOC is never a good strategy; if you do this, you will not only look disorganized and irresponsible, but the information the other parent provides may be what the FOC relies upon in making recommendations.
However, you should be thoughtful about the information you provide. An experienced family law attorney can help you be sure you are providing complete, accurate information in a way that is most likely to benefit you and your children.
In addition to making recommendations to the court, the FOC also provides educational programs about co-parenting, and helps parents resolve child-related disputes during their case and afterward, so that those disputes won’t need to go before the judge. The FOC often helps parents enforce orders for child support and parenting time.
What the Friend of the Court is Not
The Friend of the Court is intended to help ensure a well-informed, just outcome in your case, but that doesn’t mean that they are on your side. To the extent that the FOC takes a side at all, they are on the side of the well-being of your children. Many people fall into the trap of believing that since they want what is best for their children, the FOC naturally wants the same thing as they do—but what you and the FOC see as “best” may differ.
While you must give the FOC the information they request to aid the court in deciding your case, you should be very mindful of what you are communicating, and avoid giving unnecessary information, or information that could be interpreted the wrong way.
While the FOC makes recommendations in your case, the FOC is not your judge, nor a replacement for a judge. You will receive a copy of any recommendations the FOC makes regarding child support, custody, or parenting time, as will the other parent. You will both have the opportunity to file objections to any recommendations. You should have the help of an experienced family law attorney if you need to file objections, as the next step will be a hearing to gather further information.
While the FOC is not a judge, that doesn’t mean their recommendations have no weight. The court generally gives significant weight to FOC recommendations, so it would be a mistake to take any part of the FOC process lightly. Doing so could affect you for years, in terms of the child support you pay or receive, or the amount of time you are able to spend with your children.
If you have further questions about the Michigan Friend of the Court and the role they play in your case, we invite you to contact our law office to schedule a consultation.