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9
February

Role of the Friends of the Court in Family Court Matters

By Jeffrey M. Salassa

signing divorce papers at the office of Clinton township family court attorneys

For the average person, dealing with the judicial system seems overwhelming and an absolute last resort. However, family law disputes often force people into a courtroom, sometimes against their will. As such, in addition to the Judge assigned to a family law case, Michigan has an agency that assists the Family Division of Circuit Courts with issues related to custody, parenting time, and support. This agency is known as the Friend of the Court (FOC) and it typically plays a large role in family law disputes as judges look to representatives from the FOC to make recommendations on various issues. These recommendations carry significant weight and it is therefore important for parents and divorcing spouses to know what FOC’s role is in a typical family law dispute. An overview of the duties and procedures of the FOC will follow below.

Duties

The FOC has at least one office in each Circuit Court Family Division and operates under a mandate from the State Legislature which obligates them to become involved in any case where either of the involved parties receives public assistance or requests the FOC open a case on his or her behalf.

The FOC Bureau, which is the overall administrator of the FOC, issues many of the policies and guidelines that govern how family law cases are handled by courts and consequently, has a large influence on the outcome of many family law disputes. Some of the Bureau’s responsibilities include:

  • Establishment and implementation of child support guidelines;
  • Establishment and implementation of parenting time and child custody guidelines;
  • Developing and providing forms for use by the public related to requests for changes to child support, parenting time, custody, or residence;
  • Offering alternative dispute resolution services to assist parties in resolving disagreements over child custody and parenting time;
  • Developing the State child support formula; and
  • Helping the Office of Child Support with developing the Michigan Child Support Enforcement Information System.

Procedures

Representatives from the FOC normally become involved in family law matters when a judge requests that the department investigate and offer recommendations related to child custody, child support, and parenting time decisions in a particular case. While court approval is required, parties to a case typically have the option to opt out of FOC involvement as long as they file a joint motion indicating they both desire to waive access to FOC services. If the motion is approved, the parties must communicate with each other directly and are responsible for enforcing the court’s orders on their own. The motion to opt out of FOC services may be filed at the opening of the family law case or at any time before the judge issues the final order. However, parties are not permitted to opt out if there is evidence of domestic violence, unequal bargaining power, or if it is against the best interest of the child.

Consult with an Experienced Family Law Attorney

If you are going through a divorce or child custody dispute, it is important to have a family lawyer on your side to protect your best interests. The FOC handles thousands of cases and consequently cannot provide each party with the necessary attention to ensure that they obtain the best possible outcome. The Clinton Township law firm of Iafrate & Salassa, P.C. has the time and resources your case deserves. Contact them today to schedule a free consultation.

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