This is a question we’ve been asked many times over the years here in Michigan, by clients who are justifiably confused by the involvement of the Friend of The Court. After all, why would they be involved? Surely all you and your divorcing spouse need to figure this out is your respective lawyers and the final word of the judge? Well, in reality, it isn’t always that simple. And Friend of The Court plays a role in a great many aspects of family law here in the Lansing and surrounding areas. There is a Friend of the Court office in Ingham County (Lansing), and in Eaton County (Charlotte) as well as in Clinton County (St. Johns) and Jackson County and Livingston County. So let’s figure out their involvement, and you can better understand what the FOC is doing in the middle of your custody case.It all begins with the Friend of the Court Act. You can read that law here: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/mcl/pdf/mcl-Act-294-of-1982.pdf
Friend of the Court handles dispute resolution
One of the important duties of Friend of the Court is to offer dispute resolution services to families. This can mean either during or after divorces, and also in situations where the children were born out of wedlock. Sometimes these resolution services are offered directly through the court, and sometimes indirectly through mediation programs like the Community Dispute Resolution Program. This allows parents to address issues like custody arrangements, parenting time, visitation and other child related matters without having to go to court. So if you and your spouse are in the middle of a messy divorce, and you aren’t able to come to terms over the issue of child custody, FOC is very likely to get involved. They are the first official agency that will make a recommendation to your judge about custody, parenting time and child support in Michigan.
Friend of the Court also evaluates and investigates for the court
Another important role played by Friend of the Court is that of investigator. Although the process is sometimes referred to as ‘evaluation,’ they are often tasked by the Family Court with gathering data on the court’s behalf. This first step begins with a Facilitative Information Gathering Conference (FIGC). Once the FOC gathers information at the FIGC, they put together their initial recommendation to your judge. This information is then used by the court to help them make their later decisions when it comes to your custody case, or visitation agreement, along with any recommendations Friend of the Court believes are appropriate. Yes, that’s right – after conducting an investigation into your family, FOC then makes a determination about what they think is best in your case, and passes that along to your Family Court judge. So keep that in mind when dealing with FOC: they have considerable influence over the outcome of your custody case! A top quality custody attorney will spend time preparing you for a FIGC and sometimes your attorney might even attend the conference.
Friend of the Court is involved in the custody cases of active duty military
If you or your soon-to-be-ex are in the National Guard, whether in the reserves or on active duty, Friend of the Court will play a role in your custody proceedings. Specifically, if you happen to request a modification in your custody agreement, or are called to active duty and your children’s court-ordered support payments might potentially be disrupted. For example, if your child support payments are being withheld from your civilian paycheck, and you get called to active duty, you are required to report any change of address and employment status to your county FOC office. And believe it or not, if you owe more than $5,000 in child support arrearages and your active duty travel requires a passport, you might be denied unless you work out a payment plan with FOC.
Working with FOC can be intimidating, but you’re not alone!
If you have questions about Friend of the Court, or the roles they play in your divorce or custody case, you can go to their webpage which explains a good deal more about what they do and what services they provide. However, if you have questions or concerns regarding your divorce, or how to address issues like custody, visitation, or child support, please call The Kronzek Firm at 517-886-1000. Our experienced family law attorneys can answer all of your questions, and help you figure out a solution that works for your family. Whether you live in Holt, Lansing, Howell, Dewitt, or the Jackson area, we’ve helped countless parents just like you work through their divorces and achieve positive parenting outcomes during the last 25 years. We can help you too.