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What is the Role of the “Friend of the Court” in a Michigan Divorce?

Disputes over child support, custody and parenting time frequently arise in divorce cases. In Michigan, when parents cannot reach an agreement regarding these issues, the judge deciding them may get assistance from a “friend of the court” (FOC), a court-appointed official who can play a pivotal role in a divorce case.

The duties of the FOC vary from case to case but can include the following actions related to custody, parenting time and child support:

  • Investigating facts and circumstances of the case as the court directs
  • Assisting parents with reaching agreements
  • Serving as a referee to hear motions and to preside at conferences
  • Assisting the court with enforcing orders
  • Offering alternative dispute resolution services
  • Providing forms that parties may use to file motions and responses
  • Collecting and distributing support payments in cooperation with Michigan State Disbursement Unit as ordered by the court

The Friend of the Court often conducts Evidentiary Hearings, especially with respect to issues which have arisen after a divorce is granted. They will hear witnesses and will make recommendations to the judge with respect to child support, custody and other related matters.  In many county’s the Friend of the Court can issue interim orders, following either a motion or an evidentiary hearing.  The parties have three weeks to object to the interim order, but the order is effective, until such time as the judge modifies it. They can also make recommendations with respect to custody and child support. When an FOC issues a report and recommendation, both parents have the opportunity to review them and to file objections. The court will then hold a hearing to hear the views of all sides. Although the court is not bound by the FOC’s recommendation, it will be given great weight.

The court, generally, will not allow parties to opt out of the Friend of the Court, unless there is an agreement on all issues. In the event issues arise in the future, the court will require the parties to be involved with the Friend of the Court once again. Also, either party can ask, at any time, to utilize the Friend of the Court’s services. Opting out of using the Friend of the Court’s services is generally not a good idea. For example, if the parties opt out of the Friend of the Court’s services, they will have to keep very meticulous records of child support that was paid and/or received.

While the FOC in a divorce case can be instrumental in helping to resolve certain issues,  they have no authority to give legal advice. You still need to have an attorney on your side to protect your rights. With over 40 years of experience, Dawson Family Law, PLLC provides compassionate counsel and skilled representation for clients facing divorce and family law matters in Michigan. Call 833-671-4445 or contact me online to schedule a consultation at my Sterling Heights office.

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