If you are involved in a Michigan custody case or a divorce with minor children, you can expect to deal with the Friend of the Court. The Friend of the Court (FOC) is an agency created by Michigan statute more than a century ago. It is part of the Family Division of each county’s Circuit Court. As the name suggests, the FOC provides support and assistance to the court in making decisions about issues relating to children in family law cases.
Because child custody, parenting time, and child support can be complicated issues to resolve in a family law matter, the FOC’s involvement helps the court manage their caseload and enables them to make more informed decisions.
One of the duties of the FOC is to investigate and make recommendations to the court regarding child custody, parenting time, child support, and medical support in family law cases. In a FOC investigation, you will likely be asked to meet with a FOC employee and to provide information about your family’s circumstances and your children’s needs. The other parent will also be asked to provide information.
In some cases, the FOC employee assigned to your case will talk to other important people in your children’s lives, such as teachers, care providers, and relatives. The point of the investigation is not to intrude into your life, but to determine what is in your children’s best interests in your family law case. It is extremely helpful to consult with an attorney during this process to better understand what information the investigator finds helpful, and what information you should leave out. After meeting with the parents and gathering other information, the FOC issues a report, which usually contains recommendations regarding custody, parenting time arrangements, and support.
The parents and their attorney receive a copy of the report. If you disagree with the report, you can file an objection and a hearing will be scheduled where you, or your attorney if you have one, can explain what you think was wrong with the report. You should object if you think the report contains errors that could affect your children’s well-being because the report and recommendations are also submitted to the court, and will eventually be used by one of the parents to support their argument about what is best for the child.
Michigan courts are not required to accept and adopt the recommendations of the FOC, but they often do. These recommendations have the potential to affect your access to and responsibility for your children, so they should not be taken lightly. It is always best to have an experienced family law attorney advising and advocating for you with the Friend of the Court.
Family law cases involving children may involve numerous hearings, especially when there has been a change in the family’s circumstances. To ensure that concerns are addressed promptly, many of these hearings are held before a Friend of the Court referee rather than the judge in the case. Each Michigan county determines what types of issues referees can address.
Common issues that referees help to resolve include:
Referee hearings may appear less formal than hearings in front of the Judge, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s not a “real” hearing. The referee’s recommendation could have a profound impact on the outcome of your case. In addition, you may be working with the same referee in your case on various issues for years over the life of your case. It is always important to dress your best, and to be prompt, polite and prepared for a referee hearing. As with all court hearings, it is usually wise to have an attorney’s help and advice to increase your chances of success. The two most important things that an attorney can help you with for your hearing is effectively presenting the evidence and properly identifying the law that will support your position.
After the hearing, the referee will issue a recommendation about what should happen. The recommendation is not an order yet, but if neither party files an objection to the recommendation within 21 days it will become a legally binding order. If either party does file an objection, you will have a de novo hearing on the objection before a judge. Generally, the judge will not let you present any evidence that you could have presented at the referee hearing, but didn’t. That is why it is so important to get as much help as possible to be ready for your referee hearing.
How your interactions with the Friend of the Court begin can affect your custody, parenting time and support going forward. You want the Friend of the Court to see you as you are: a thoughtful, caring, responsible parent.
As a parent, helping your child is your first priority. At Blume Law Group, helping you is ours. Attorney Sean Blume has spent most of his legal career protecting the legal interests of children, including the most vulnerable. He is uniquely well-positioned to advise parents in Friend of the Court matters.
Blume Law Group represents parents in Michigan Friend of the Court (FOC) matters in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and St. Clair counties. We invite you to contact our office to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to working with you.