What Is the Friend of the Court?
The Friend of the Court (FOC) helps the court with custody, parenting time, and child support issues. Among other things, the FOC:
Helps parents settle disputes during and after their case
Investigates and makes recommendations about custody, parenting time, and child support
Makes sure parents obey court orders about custody, parenting time, and child support
Gives people court forms for some family law issues (you don’t need a lawyer to use these forms)
Can the Friend of the Court Make Orders in My Case?
No. However, the Friend of the Court sometimes makes a recommended order. When this happens, the parties have an opportunity to file an objection if they disagree with the recommendation. If neither party files an objection on time, the judge may decide to make the recommended order an actual order in your case.
When a FOC employee makes a recommendation, they are guided by Michigan law. If the FOC makes a child support recommendation, they will calculate support using the Michigan Child Support Formula. If they are making a recommendation about custody and parenting time, they will apply the "best interests of the child" factors. To learn more, read Child Support in a Nutshell, Custody and Parenting Time, and The "Best Interests of the Child" Factors.
Friend of the Court Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Some courts require parties to go to Friend of the Court alternative dispute resolution (ADR) when there is a disagreement about custody, parenting time, and/or child support in a court case. During mediation or another type of ADR, a Friend of the Court worker meets with the parties.
In mediation, the mediator helps the parties try to reach agreements on the disputed issues. If the parties reach an agreement, the mediator submits a proposed order and report for the judge based on that agreement. But if the parties do not reach an agreement, the mediator will only tell the judge the date mediation was completed, who participated, and that a settlement was not reached. A mediator will not make a recommendation to the judge if the parties do not agree on the issues.
There are two other types of Friend of the Court ADR processes: "joint meetings" and "facilitative and information-gathering conferences." In both of these, the FOC worker will try to help the parties reach an agreement on the issues. If the parties reach an agreement, the worker will submit a report to the judge and may also submit a proposed order that includes the parties' agreements. Unlike mediation, if the parties do not agree on the issues, the FOC worker may prepare a recommended order. The FOC will send the recommendation to the judge and both parties.
A Friend of the Court recommendation usually will become a court order if neither party objects to it on time. Read the recommendation carefully for information about this. If you disagree with the recommendation, you can file an objection within 21 days from the date of service, and schedule a date for a hearing in front of the judge.
If you want to file an objection, call the court clerk's office or Friend of the Court office to find out if they have a form you can use. Or you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find a lawyer to draft an objection for you. Currently there is no statewide objection form.
At the hearing, the parties can tell the judge what they want the court order to say. The judge will also consider the FOC report and recommendation and may give them great weight. However, the judge is not bound by the recommendation and may reach a different decision on some or all of the issues.
If your court does not require Friend of the Court ADR, you may still want to ask the judge to refer you to the Friend of the Court. For example, you may want to do this if you need help calculating child support.
Domestic Violence and Other Reasons for Exemption
Sometimes an ADR meeting should not happen. When there has been a personal protection order (PPO) between the parties or the parties have been involved in a child abuse and neglect case, they may not be referred to Friend of the Court ADR unless there is a hearing to determine if ADR is appropriate. This is true whether the PPO or the abuse and neglect case are current or happened in the past.
The Friend of the Court may also exempt cases from ADR on the basis of:
- Child abuse or neglect
- Domestic abuse
- Inability of one or both parties to negotiate for themselves
- Reason to believe that one or both parties' health or safety would be endangered by ADR
- Other good cause
If Friend of the Court ADR has been scheduled in your case and you need to object, contact your Friend of the Court office or find a lawyer. There are strict timelines and rules about how to object to ADR. If you have low income, you may qualify for free legal services. Whether you have low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area.
Friend of the Court Investigations
Friend of the Court investigations are different from Friend of the Court ADR. Unlike in ADR meetings, FOC workers who do investigations are not trying to help the parties agree. Instead, they investigate and gather information about the contested issues, which could be custody, parenting time, and/or child support. Then, they prepare a written report and recommendation on these issues for the judge.
FOC offices in different courts investigate in different ways. Depending on the court, the FOC may meet with the parties. Other courts gather written responses from the parties through questionnaire forms. Other FOC offices outsource investigations to mental health professionals. If requested by a party, the investigation may include a meeting with the party. The investigation may include reports and evaluations by outside people or agencies if requested by the parties or the judge.
The FOC will send a copy of the written report and recommendation to the parties (and their lawyers, if they have them). The judge does not have to follow the FOC findings and recommendations.
If you receive a recommendation following an investigation, review it carefully, including the cover page if there is one. It may have instructions about whether/when the recommendation becomes an order and how to object.
Friend of the Court Referee Hearings
A judge can refer a motion to a Friend of the Court referee for a hearing. A referee is not a judge but recommends an order to the judge.
Some issues that referees can cover include:
- Enforcement of child support and parenting time
- Motions for temporary custody and support
- Motions for a change of custody or parenting time
- Motions to revoke paternity
Even though a referee hearing may not seem as formal as a hearing in front of a judge, it is still important. It is your opportunity to explain what you want your court order to say and to present evidence supporting your position. The Michigan Rules of Evidence apply to referee hearings as well as hearings in front of a judge. If you would want a lawyer to go in front of a judge, you should also have a lawyer for a referee hearing.
After a hearing, the referee will make a written recommendation to the judge. Both parties will receive a copy. A referee’s recommendation becomes a final court order if no party files a written objection with the court clerk within 21 days after the referee serves the recommendation on the parties.
You can use the Objection to Referee's Recommended Order form to object to a referee recommendation. You must file your objection within 21 days after the recommendation is served.
Objecting to a referee recommendation is not easy. If you file an objection on time, there will be a court hearing on your objection, and the judge will decide whether to approve and sign the referee’s recommended order or to order something different. At the hearing, the judge can prevent you from giving evidence that you had the chance to present to the referee. The judge can also limit the objection hearing based on what your written objection says.
These are both reasons you may want to consider hiring a lawyer. Whether you have a low income or not, you can use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you have a low income, you may qualify for free legal services. If you are not able to get free legal services but can’t afford high legal fees, consider hiring a lawyer for part of your case instead of the whole thing. This is called limited scope representation. To learn more, read Limited Scope Representation (LSR): A More Affordable Way to Hire a Lawyer. To find a limited scope lawyer, follow this link to the State Bar of Michigan lawyer directory. This link lists lawyers who offer limited scope representation. You can narrow the results to lawyers in your area by typing in your county, city, or zip code at the top of the page. You can also narrow the results by topic by entering the kind of lawyer you need (divorce, estate, etc.) at the top of the page.
The FOC provides enforcement services on all existing custody and parenting time orders. The FOC must start the enforcement process if either party files a written complaint about a custody or parenting time violation. If the FOC determines there has been a violation, it will take enforcement action. This could include:
- Applying makeup parenting time
- Filing a motion to change parenting time
- Starting contempt proceedings against the violating parent
- Other remedies
The FOC also provides enforcement services for child support orders. Some of the enforcement methods that the FOC may use are:
- Income withholding
- Intercepting state and federal tax refunds
- Suspending driving, occupational, sporting, and/or recreational licenses
- Contempt proceedings
For more information about enforcement, read Enforcing Orders for Custody, Parenting Time, and Child Support.
Opting Out of Friend of the Court Services
Opting out of FOC services means the FOC will not be involved in your case, and you will not receive any of the services the FOC provides. If you opt out of FOC services, parenting time or child support disagreements will be heard by a judge in a longer and more formal process. Also, the FOC will not help enforce child support that builds up during the opt-out period. If you opt out of FOC services and the other parent doesn’t pay your child support, the FOC won’t help you collect what you are owed.
You must qualify to opt out in order for the court to let you do so. The requirements to opt out depend on whether the FOC has already opened a case in your family court action. If you do not have a judgment or final order in your case, and if no support order has been entered, it is likely the FOC has not opened a case yet. If there is a support order and/or there is a final judgment or order in your case, it is likely the FOC has opened a case.
If the FOC has not opened a case yet, you can opt out unless the court determines one or more of the following is true:
- One of the parties qualifies for public assistance;
- One of the parties applied for Title IV-D child support services;
- One of the parties requested that the FOC open and maintain a case;
- There is evidence of domestic violence or uneven bargaining positions and evidence that a party’s failure to apply for child support services is against the best interest of the party or a child.
If the FOC has already opened a case in your action, you can opt out unless the court determines one or more of the following is true:
- Either party objects;
- A party receives public assistance;
- A party used to get public assistance, and a past-due support obligation is owed to the government agency that provided the assistance;
- The FOC case record shows that within the past 12 months, a child support arrearage or a custody or parenting time order violation occurred;
- A party reopened a closed FOC case within the past 12 months;
- There is evidence of domestic violence or an uneven bargaining position, and evidence suggests the party’s decision to opt out is against the best interest of the party or child.
To ask the court to opt out of FOC services, file a motion asking that FOC services not be required. There is no motion form accepted state-wide for this purpose. However, some circuit courts have developed a motion form for opt-out requests. Contact your court to find out if they have one. If you file a motion to opt out, you must attach a signed copy of the Advice of Rights Regarding Use of Friend of the Court Services.
You can opt back into FOC services at any time by asking the FOC to reopen your case or by requesting any service from the FOC. The form to ask the FOC to reopen your case is the Request to Reopen Friend of the Court Case. Also, the FOC will reopen your case file if one of you applies for public assistance. The judge may ask you or the FOC to prepare a written order to reopen the case.
Other FOC Resources
The Friend of the Court also provides court forms on many issues that you can use without a lawyer’s help. These include form motions, responses, orders, and procedural instructions. Many FOC offices also have standard parenting time schedules that you can use in your case.
For more information about the Friend of the Court, read the Friend of the Court Model Handbook.