Friend of the Court: Are they really your friend?

Posted

No.  The Friend of the Court is not YOUR friend, it is a friend of the COURT.  However, while the friend of the Court can certainly be a wealth of information and very helpful, the purpose of the Friend of the Court is to assist the Court with actions involving custody, support, parenting time, and spousal support.  The Friend of the Court is available to provide certain information to parties to a case, but under no circumstances can they give you legal advice.

The Friend of the Court CAN help you enforce orders.  For example, if your Parenting Time Order says that you get to have parenting time on Christmas Day from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. and you are not afforded the parenting time, you can notify the Friend of the Court in writing that the order has been violated, and then the Friend of the Court will take action on your behalf.

The Friend of the Court CANNOT punish the parent, nor even call them and demand the child immediately be turned over to you.  If your complaint has merit, the Friend of the Court will send the opposing side a letter to say that there is an allegation that the order has been violated.  The other side then has a set time period in which to respond to the allegation.  If the other side disagrees, the Friend of the Court will schedule a hearing.  At the hearing, a judge or a referee will decide if the other side has violated the order and what, if any, consequence they may face for the violation.

The Friend of the Court in each county is different.  Every county has a different procedure and requirement to enforce orders.  For example, some counties require that you appear at the pick-up location at the specified date and time and then when the other parent does not appear with the child/ren, you may file a written violation notice.  Some counties have a specific violation form.  Some counties will not enforce a written agreement between the parties if it is not part of the order.  You CAN call the Friend of the Court office and review their webpage to determine what you will need to do to pursue enforcement.

The Friend of the Court CAN tell you whether you will need to file a motion to have something happen in your case and can direct you to the most appropriate motion form, if there is one available.  The Friend of the Court CANNOT tell you how to fill out the forms.  If you need to modify support, parenting time, or custody, you MUST file a motion.

There is a provision in all orders that requires you to keep your address, employment, phone number, and insurance information up to date with the Friend of the Court.  However, just because you notify them that you have, for example, changed jobs does not mean that they are going to change support because there is now a difference in pay.  If the other parent notifies the Friend of the Court that, for example, they have a new address across the state, it does not mean that they are aware that they moved outside of the 100 miles and the Friend of the Court will enforce the order, it simply means they have updated information to contact them.  To change your child support obligation because of a change in income, YOU must file a Motion to Modify Child Support.  To ask for enforcement because the other parent moved more than 100 miles away from the place of residence that was recorded for the children in the order, YOU must file a complaint and ask for enforcement.

The Friend of the Court CAN give you information on how they interpret orders.  Many orders are vague or things come up that were not contemplated.  If, for example, an order states that a parent has parenting time on Friday beginning after school and then there is a snow day, there may be a dispute as to who has to find daycare and what time you can pick up the child.  The Friend of the Court may be able to provide instruction as to how they would interpret these responsibilities.  Many Friend of the Court offices have certain policies and procedures, addressing questions such as:  If your parenting time is from 9:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving until 5:00 p.m. on Friday, but your weekend parenting time with your children is set to begin at 6:00 p.m. on that same Friday, do you have to give the child back for one hour?

The Friend of the Court CAN provide you with a history of your child or spousal support payments and let you know the status of your child or spousal support account.  The Friend of the Court CANNOT collect a normal monthly payment, give you any money that was collected on a particular day, or remit refund monies from an overpayment to you.  The Friend of the Court’s role is to send an order to your employer to have the employer send money to a state- wide distribution system commonly known as MISDU.  If you are self-employed, your payments must be sent directly to MISDU.  You can log into your account with MISDU and get the same information the Friend of the Court would provide by using the website www.michigan.gov/micase.

One of the primary roles of the Friend of the Court is to review all orders and ensure that all language required by the law is included and to try to avoid some of the unforeseen situations, such as those listed above.  You CAN submit an order or a judgment to which you and the other party have agreed, and ask the Friend of the Court to review it and tell you if it meets the requirements before you enter it with the court.  If the Friend of the Court does not approve the judgment or order, the judge will likely NOT sign the order.  The Friend of the Court CANNOT tell you what to write so that it can be approved and cannot draft paperwork for you.

A few practical tips for dealing with the Friend of the Court:

  • If your local Friend of the Court has a web page, review it.  Get familiar with the resources available online.  If you are in a position to pay or receive child or spousal support, utilize the website at michigan.gov/micase to keep track of your account.
  • Communicate with the Friend of the Court in writing and always include identifying information, such as your case number, full names of both parties involved, and the names and birthdates of your children, to ensure the information reaches the correct file.  The Friend of the Court often has specific forms for you to fill out or will want you to put your request in writing.
  • Learn the Friend of the Court procedures.  Do not assume that if you put it in writing as recommended above, it is done or will be addressed.  Follow up with the Friend of the Court office.  Ask if it is in the right form.  The Friend of the Court often has specific forms for you to fill out, so you may have to fill out the correct form for your issue.
  • Be nice!  You really DO catch more flies with honey then with vinegar.  Treat them with courtesy and professionalism and they should do the same for you.
  • When in doubt as to what they are telling you, or if you are in need of legal advice, contact a local attorney.

Following these few simple steps and utilizing the Friend of the Court for the purposes for which they were created will save you a lot of time and frustration.