If you are beginning the divorce process in Michigan and you have minor children, you may have heard of an entity called the Friend of the Court. This office may become involved in your divorce, so you should know what it does and how it can affect the process.
The FOC deals with issues surrounding custody, visitation, support and any other questions regarding the children's well-being in the divorce process. It also makes recommendations to judges. Judges may vary in their approach to FOC recommendations, with some tending to adopt them unquestioningly and others following a more individualized, critical path. The parents may also provide their input as to the recommendation, including any objections.
Sometimes the FOC sets up meetings with the parents to facilitate an agreement on custody, visitation and support. The conciliation process is similar to mediation and aims to achieve an agreement.
A judge may order the FOC to investigate a case in order to determine optimal arrangements. The investigating employee may speak with the children, their teachers and other people who may provide useful input.
Hearings and recommendations
In some counties, the judge may hand over certain issues for a FOC referee hearing. Hearings may cover issues such as custody and support motions, modifications and enforcement of support and parenting schedules. The referee then makes a recommendation to the court. Either of the parents may file an objection for the judge to hear.
The FOC also has enforcement powers for current custody and visitation orders. When one party submits a complaint about a violation, the FOC looks into the matter and may take action if it finds the violation occurred. Enforcement actions may include moving to change the schedule, initiating contempt proceedings, suspending licenses and withholding income.
Judges may allow parents to opt out of FOC services if both agree. Opting out means any issues the FOC may have dealt with now go before the judge. FOC enforcement may also not be available in case of violation of orders. You may not be able to opt out if either of you receive public benefits or if domestic violence allegations exist.