Friend of the Court Handbook

Michigan's
FRIEND OF THE COURT
Support, Custody and Parenting Time
for Michigan Children

Dear Michigan citizen:

Michigan's Friend of the Court oversees the welfare of children whose support, custody and parenting time are the subject of court orders because their parents are separated, divorced or have borne children out-of-wedlock. Throughout the years, the office has undergone major legislative reforms in order to strengthen support and parenting time enforcement assuring that children's rights to economic and emotional support are protected. The reforms also have included procedures to make the Friend of the Court (FOC) more accessible and accountable to the citizen's it is designed to serve.

This handbook describes the procedures available to all Friend of the Court offices to enforce the court's orders and the process available to Michigan Citizens for providing input into the operations of the Friend of the Court. I hope this information is helpful to you. 

Information provided in part by:

State Court Administrative Office
Friend of the Court Bureau
PO Box 30048
Lansing, MI 48909
(517) 373-7498 

Table of Contents

The Friend of the Court Handbook

This handbook provides useful information about the Friend of the Court and the child support enforcement program. The child support enforcement program was created under Title IV-D (Four D) of the Social Security Act. In Michigan this program is administered by the Office of Child Support in cooperation with the Friend of the Court. The Office of Child Support is part of the Department of Social Services (Family Independence Agency), and has the responsibility to administer federal child support program funds, coordinate location of absent parents, and manage the process for income tax intercepts. The Office of Child Support may also initiate complaints filed under the Paternity Act, the Family Support Act and other support enforcement actions when more than one state is involved.

Children love both parents and most want their parents to be together. When parents do not live together, children and parents alike may experience anxiety which may cause anger, sadness and sorrow. Family structure and relationships are different, including the relationship between both parents and the children, especially when changes involve different residences and a loss of family traditions. It is a very difficult time for everyone, which may worsen when parents do or say negative things to each other.

Parents can help by establishing or maintaining children's regular routines, encouraging frequent and regular contact between children and both parents, and by being supportive of the other parent's involvement in the children's day-to-day life through participation in school and other activities, and exchanging information regarding the children's well-being.

While the husband-wife or significant other relationship may end, the responsibility to be co-parents continues forever. Though your legal relationship may end when your children become adults, your relationship as parents continues indefinitely. Your children will always want you both to be part of their lives, to attend high school or college graduation, to be at their weddings, the birth of their children, and other major life events. They want to be able to proudly say that despite what mom and dad may have felt toward one another, they always treated each other with courtesy and respect and never put us (the children) in the middle of their dispute.

Family law matters are difficult and painful. When a family matter arises, the Circuit Court has the responsibility to assist you to resolve the concerns which affect your family. The Circuit Court and Friend of the Court are aware of the many emotions which complicate the legal decisions surrounding you and your children.

Children need both parents. When you as parents cooperate, you reassure your children that change will be positive. You also build the foundation for your new parental relationship and responsibilities.

We will do our best to handle your case quickly and fairly. Please follow the suggestions in this handbook and you will be well on your way to doing your part. 


Rights and Responsibilities of the Parties

Each party has the right to:

  1. Expect the Friend of the Court to perform the duties listed in this pamphlet/outline.
  2. Request the Friend of the Court office to explain its procedures.
  3. Be treated with courtesy by Friend of the Court employees.
  4. File a grievance with the Friend of the Court office concerning an employee or office procedure.
  5. Consult an attorney regarding concerns.

Each party has the responsibility to:

  1. Inform the Friend of the Court, in writing, of changes which affect the way the Friend of the Court must do its job, such as:
    1. Change of address;
    2. Change in income status or source of income;
    3. Changes in children's residence.
  2. Provide information to the Friend of the Court office to assist it in carrying out their duties as required by law.
  3. Obey all orders of the court unless and until changed by the court.
  4. Keep appointments made with the office, or take the time to cancel an appointment and make a new one.
  5. Treat the Friend of the Court employees with courtesy.


The Office of Friend of the Court

The Friend of the Court office was created in 1919 by Michigan law, and there is at least one office serving each circuit court. The Friend of the Court has the following duties:

  1. When parents cannot agree, or when directed by the judge, to conduct investigations and make reports and recommendations to the court regarding:
    • Custody
    • Parenting time (which may include transportation)
    • Amount of child support (including medical support, and in limited situations spousal support).
  2. To offer mediation, when both parents agree to participate, as an optional way of settling disagreements over custody or parenting time of children.
  3. To collect, record and send out all support payments as ordered by the court.
  4. To provide enforcement services on all custody, parenting time and support orders entered by the court.

This handbook also addresses the basic duties of parties when the court as issued an order for custody, parenting time or support.

This handbook describes general duties of the Friend of the Court. Specific procedures are established by local offices and may vary from office to office. Any questions regarding local procedures or requirements outlined in this handbook may be discussed with your local Friend of the Court, or with an attorney of your choice. 


 Procedures of the court

Any individual wishing to start a domestic relations action must file the correct papers according to specific rules (Michigan Court Rules). There may be many complicated issues or rules involved in a domestic relations case. Although the court cannot require a party to use an attorney to start or defend an action, it may be advisable to have an attorney file the correct papers and follow specific rules.

Plaintiff's Complaint

Each case begins plaintiff filing papers (complaint or petition) which asks the court to grant an order. A complaint or petition may ask the court to:

  • grant a divorce,
  • provide for child or spousal support,
  • start an out-of-state support collection effort,
  • or grant an order for custody of a child.

The defendant is the person whom the complaint is filed against.

Service

Michigan Court Rules state that the defendant must be given a copy of the complaint and summons and a Friend of the Court informational handbook whenever minor children are involved or spousal support is requested. The summons asks the defendant to answer the complaint. The summons and complaint must be delivered in a way that the defendant has notice a case has been started against him/her.

Defendant's Answer to Complaint

Once the defendant receives the papers, (s)he is allowed time to answer the claims made. If an answer is not filed within the time frame permitted (usually 21 days), the defendant may lose the right to have his/her concerns heard by the judge. This could result in an order granting the plaintiff's requests. 


Domestic Relations Process

Divorce

A person who wants to end his/her marriage must have a Circuit Court judge enter a judgment of divorce bringing an end to a marriage. To grant the divorce, the Judge must find that there is a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the point that the parties cannot live together as husband and wife. At least one of the parties must appear in court to show that this breakdown really does exist. In Michigan, a divorce can be granted even if one of the parties does not want the divorce.

A divorce ends the legal relationship between a husband and wife. The divorce does not end the family relationship, even though the relationship will change.

Many decisions must be made before a divorce is granted.

These decisions may include:

  1. How will the parties provide guidance and care for the children? (legal custody)
  2. How much time will children spend with each parent? (physical custody and/or parenting time)
  3. How should the property gathered during the marriage be divided? (property settlement)
  4. How will financial responsibilities for the children be divided? (child support)
  5. What amount, if any, should one party contribute towards the support of the other, either permanently or temporarily? (spousal support-alimony)
  6. How will the children's medical, dental and other health care expenses be paid? (health care coverage)
  7. Will the wife change her name?
  8. Will children be allowed to move from the State of Michigan? (domicile)

Divorce issues may be resolved in the following ways:

  • The parties may be able to reach an agreement by themselves or by talking to their attorneys.
  • Mediation is available through the Friend of the Court and private agencies to resolve the issues of custody and visitation.
  • In some circuit courts, a Friend of the Court referee may hear the issues and make a recommendation to the judge.
  • The judge may help in settling a matter by having a pretrial or settlement conference.
  • The judge will hold a hearing or trial on the issues that have not been resolved.

Copies of all papers filed in a case must be given to the Friend of the Court by the person bringing the action or his or her attorney. Recommendations on custody, parenting time and child support will be made by the Friend of the Court office, if the circuit court orders the office to do so.

Ex-Parte Orders (Orders entered by the court without the benefit of a hearing)

Sometimes a judge will immediately enter a custody, parenting time or child support order upon the request of one of the parties. This happens if it can be shown to the judge that serious damage will occur if the other party is served with the papers before an order can be entered.

If a party disagrees with an ex parte order, he/she must file a written objection to the order, or file a motion with the court to change or cancel the order.

When an ex parte order contains child support, custody, or parenting time, the order must also include a notice that allows a written objection or motion be filed within 14 days. If a party wishes to file an objection, and the Friend of the Court cannot help the parties settle the dispute, the Friend of the Court will provide forms and instructions for filing an objection, and schedule a hearing with the court

Temporary Orders

After the complaint has been filed, temporary custody, parenting time, child support, and sometimes spousal support, may need to be decided. Either party, or in some cases the Friend of the Court, may file a motion with the court asking for such an order.

If a hearing before a referee or judge is scheduled, both parties will be notified of the time and place. At the time of the hearing, each party can offer his/her ideas to the court (The decision made at that hearing by the court is written down by one of the attorneys or parties and put in the form of an Order.) An order is not valid until it has been signed by the judge and filed with the county clerk. A referee can hear disputes, but can only make recommendations to the judge. Only a judge can enter orders or judgments.

Reconciliations and Dismissals

Not every case ends in divorce. If parties are trying to work out their differences and wish to have enforcement of their court orders stopped, they may file a motion with the Circuit Court and obtain an order to suspend automatic enforcement. Enforcement of a support obligation cannot be stopped except by court order.

If the parties wish to stop a divorce, they must file an order of dismissal with the Circuit Court, and provide a copy to the Friend of the Court. Any past due support owed to the State of Michigan must be paid.

Judgment of Divorce

A judgment contains the orders of the court which address support, visitation, custody, property and other related issues.

There is a 60 day waiting period for divorce cases without children and a 6 month waiting period for divorces where there are minor children.

Modification of a Judgment

After a judgment of divorce action has been entered, there are some parts that can be modified in the best interests of the children. These include custody, parenting time, support, and change of domicile.

A change can only occur if:

  1. Both parties have mutually agreed to change the judgment and sign an agreement (stipulation and consent agreement) which, when signed by the judge, will be entered as an order; OR
  2. A motion has been filed, a hearing has been held and the court enters an order granting a change.

Agreements reached between parties are only recognized by the Court and the Friend of the Court when those agreements are entered as an order of the court. Simply notifying a Friend of the Court employee or a Family Independence Agency worker of an agreement does not change the court order.

Sometimes, the Friend of the Court has an obligation to petition the court for a change (See Parenting Time Orders and Support Orders sections of this handbook).

Family Support Actions

A party who is separated from his or her spouse with no divorce pending and who has a minor child living with them, may seek to establish a family support order under the Family Support Act (this is referred to as an Order of Support). Generally, family support actions are started by a Prosecuting Attorney's office after a referral by the Michigan Department of Social Services. The Department of Social Services makes referrals whether or not a party receives public assistance. In addition, a party can contact a private attorney to file an action.

The Friend of the Court has the responsibility to enforce all orders of support. If the parents get back together and decide to end the family support order, they must contact either the Prosecuting Attorney or their attorney to obtain an Order of Dismissal. Notifying a Department of Social Services caseworker does not end the court's support order.

When the Friend of the Court receives the Order of Dismissal, the family support order will stop. If children have received public assistance, plans to pay any back support must be made with the Friend of the Court.

Either parent may begin a divorce action even though the court has ordered support in a family support action. The family support order ends upon entry of a Judgment of Divorce. A copy of the Judgment of Divorce must be provided to the Friend of the Court. If delinquent support is owed under the family support action, plans to pay the back support must be made with the Friend of the Court.

If the parties have a family support order and have also filed for divorce, and decide to stop the divorce action, they must file an Order of Dismissal. Filing an order to dismiss the divorce will not end the family support order.

Paternity Actions

Paternity is a legal determination that identifies the father of a child born out of wedlock. Either parent can request the court to establish paternity. Generally, paternity actions are started by a Prosecuting Attorney's office after a referral by the Michigan Department of Social Services. The Department of Social Services makes referrals whether or not a party receives public assistance. A party has the right to contact a private attorney to file the paternity action.

Once paternity has been established, the court may order child support, reimbursement of medical expenses for the birth of the child and on-going health care expenses of the child.

Parenting Time (provision for the father or mother to see the child) is not automatically ordered in paternity cases. However, if a parent who has a paternity action pending would like custody or parenting time, he or she should advise the Prosecuting Attorney or their private attorney before the entry of the paternity order.

The Friend of the Court cannot help with parenting time (visitation) problems unless a court order for parenting time has been established by the court. If the mother and father marry after the court enters the paternity order, they must give a copy of the marriage license to the Friend of the Court to end the support order. Arrangements must be made to pay all money owed to any public agency.

Interstate Actions

If the parent required to pay support leaves the State of Michigan, he or she must continue to pay support through the Friend of the Court.

If the child support payments stop, the parent receiving support has two choices:

  1. Contact either the Prosecuting Attorney or a private attorney to request that they file a Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act (RURESA) action. A RURESA order establishes a support order in the state where the non-custodial parent lives.

    To begin the RURESA action, the custodial parent should have the full name, date of birth, social security number, the last known address of the person who should by paying support and a copy of all court orders involving the parents. If the custodial parent is not sure where the other parent lives, the Prosecuting Attorney's office will try to locate him or her.

    Once the state in which the non-custodial parent lives enters its support order, authorities in that state are responsible for its enforcement. Each state has control within its own boundaries. A support order established in another state under RURESA does not affect the amount owed under a Michigan order. A delinquent payer who returns to Michigan can be brought before the court for failure to pay under the Michigan order;

  2. Register the Michigan order in the state where the paying parent lives. the Friend of the Court or a private attorney can assist with this process. After the Michigan order is registered in the state where the paying parent lives, it becomes an order of the court in the other state, to be enforced by the other state.

    In some states, registering the order includes registering the custody and visitation orders. This means the court in the other state could change the visitation, custody and/or support order if asked.


 Duties of the Friend of the Court

Alternative Dispute Resolution

The Friend of the Court is required by law to make mediation services available to parties when there is a dispute as to custody and/or visitation. Domestic relations mediation provides an alternative to resolving custody and visitation disputes. Best of all, it isfree. Mediation is available through the Friend of the Court, but can only take place when both parties agree to meet with a mediator.

Mediation is a process that parties can use to reach their own agreements without going to court. Hopefully, the child's best interests are better served when a mother and a father reach a mutually agreeable solution to the difficult problems of child custody and parenting time (visitation). By actively participating in the decision making process with the aid of a trained domestic relations expert, the parties are more inclined to live by and respect the agreements and avoid disputes. The mediator (the neutral person who helps the parties reach an agreement) cannot reveal to the court or anyone else the discussions the parties had during the mediation process. The person who mediates in the case cannot later investigate any disputes between the parties or enforce any court orders regarding the case.

Custody

A number of custody arrangements are possible. The most common are:

  • Joint Legal Custody: Means that parents will communicate and cooperate with one another and attempt to reach mutual decisions regarding major issues affecting their children. This decision-making process includes, but is not limited to: major medical decisions, educational decisions, and religious upbringing, if any.
  • Joint Physical Custody: Means that children live with one parent part of the time and the other parent part of the time. This time does not have to be equal. The parent who has care of the children at any given time is responsible for routine decisions regarding the children.
  • Primary Physical Custody: Means that the children live primarily with one parent.
  • Sole Custody: Means that the children live with one parent and that parent is responsible for making major decisions regarding the children.

Custody is contested when more than one party wants to be the custodial parent. In disputes between parties, the matter is referred to the Friend of the Court Office for a Child Custody Evaluation. A trained Custody Evaluator will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the family and prepare a report on the child or children's "best interests." The purpose of the report is to assist the Judge in determining who shall be custodian.

In deciding the custodial arrangements, the court must consider all of the following factors of the Michigan Child Custody Act:

  1. The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.
  2. The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and continuation of the educating and raising of the child in its religion or creed, if any.
  3. The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this State in place of medical care, and other material needs.
  4. The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
  5. The permanence as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
  6. The moral fitness of the parties involved.
  7. The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
  8. The home, school, and community record of the child.
  9. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
  10. The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.
  11. Domestic violence, regardless of whether the violence was directed against, or witnessed by the child.
  12. Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.

At the request of either parent, the Court will consider as award of joint custody. In other cases joint custody may be considered by the Court.

Custody Questions and Answers

1. How do I get an order for custody? A petition requesting the court to grant you custody of your children must be filed with the court. If both parents agree and sign an agreement (stipulation and consent agreement), that agreement, if approved by the court, may be entered as a custody order.

2. How do I change an existing order for custody? A petition to modify a custody order must be filed with the court, or the parents can sign a written agreement changing custody (stipulation and consent agreement), which if approved by the court, will change custody.

3. Do I need to have an attorney to get custody? It is not required that you have an attorney to file a petition for custody. However, there are many complicated issues involved in a custody case and there fore you may want to have an attorney represent you. The Friend of the Court cannot file a petition for custody for you.

4. Is there any way the court can assist us in reaching an agreement on custody? The Friend of the Court is required to provide Domestic Relations Mediation. Mediation is a process where a neutral third party assists in voluntarily settling a custody dispute. Both parties must agree to participate in this process.

5. Are there different kinds of custody? Yes, a number of custody arrangements are possible. The most common are:

  1. Joint Custody
    Joint custody means an order of the court in which one or both of the following are provided: (a) That the children live with one parent part of the time and with the other parent part of the time. (b) That the parents both share in making decisions on important issues dealing with the children.
  2. Sole Custody
    An order of the court which states that the children live with one parent and that parent is responsible for making decisions on important issues dealing with the child.

6. After a petition for custody has been filed, and we cannot reach our own agreement, what does the Friend of the Court have to do? The Friend of the Court is required to:

  1. Offer mediation services to the parties.
  2. Conduct an investigation and file a written report and recommendation to the court based on the factors listed in the Michigan Child Custody Act.

7. Do I have the right to receive a copy of the Friend of the Court report and recommendation on custody? Before the court takes any action on a Friend of the Court custody recommendation, the Friend of the Court must provide to each party or their attorney a copy of the report, recommendation and any supporting documents or a summary of the documents prepared or used by the Friend of the Court.

8. What will happen if I have an order for custody and the other parent does not return the child to me as stated in the court order? You have several choices: (1) You can contact the Friend of the Court and request that they enforce your order. (2) You can contact your attorney. (3) You can contact the Prosecuting Attorney and request that a kidnapping charge be started if you have reason to believe that the other parent intends to keep the child.

9. Does the Friend of the Court have a responsibility to investigate alleged abuse and/or neglect of a child? Allegations of abuse or neglect should be reported to the Protective Services unity of your local Department of Social Services office. The Friend of the Court has a responsibility to conduct an investigation when a party files a visitation or custody petition. Allegations of abuse or neglect should be communicated to the Friend of the Court during the investigate process.

Parenting Time Orders

A Parenting Time Order establishes the amount of time between the parent who does not have custody and the children.

The Michigan Child Custody Act (MCL 722.27a, MSA 25.312(7a)) states: "It is in the best interest of the child to have frequent and constant contact with the non-custodial parent. If the parents agree on parenting time terms, the court shall order those parenting time terms, unless the court determines on the record that the parenting time terms are not in the best interests of the child. A child shall have a right to parenting time with a parent unless it is shown on the record by clear and convincing evidence that the parenting time would jeopardize the child's physical, mental or emotional health." During the person's parenting time, that parent is responsible for all routine decisions affecting the child.

The Michigan Child Custody Act states that the judge may consider the following factors when determining the frequency, duration and type of parenting time to be granted:

  1. The existence of any special circumstances or needs of the child.
  2. Whether the child is a nursing child less than 6 months of age, or less than 1 year of age if the child receives substantial nutrition through nursing.
  3. The reasonable likelihood of abuse or neglect of the child during parenting time.
  4. The reasonable likelihood of abuse of a parent resulting from the exercise of parenting time.
  5. The inconvenience to, and burdensome impact or effect on, the child of traveling to and from the parenting time.
  6. Whether the visiting parent can reasonably be expected to exercise parenting time in accordance with the court order.
  7. Whether the visiting parent has frequently failed to exercise reasonable parenting time.
  8. The threatened or actual detention of the child with the intent to retain or conceal the child from the other parent of from a third person who has legal custody. A custodial parent's temporary residence with the child in a domestic violence shelter shall not be construed as evidence of the custodial parent's intent to retain or conceal the child from the other parent.

Parenting Time Enforcement

The Friend of the Court must begin enforcement proceedings when it receives a written complaint stating specific facts including dates, times and reasons given, about an alleged denial of parenting time, and when the Friend of the Court determines that there is reason to believe the court's order has been violated.

A party has the right to request the Friend of the Court to assist in preparing a written complaint about parenting time.

If the Friend of the Court has reason to believe that the parenting time order has been violated, the office may do one or more of the following: (A) Schedule a meeting with the parties and attempt to resolve the differences. (B) Refer the parties to a mediator if they agree to mediation.

If either of the above options are not successful, the Friend of the Court shall do one or more of the following: (A) Apply the local make-up parenting time policy (contact the Friend of the Court for more information about its policy). (B) Begin a civil contempt proceeding with the court by filing a petition for an order to show cause. (C) Petition the court for a change in the existing parenting time order (a written report and recommendation shall be provided with this petition). 


Questions and Answers Regarding Parenting Time

1. My parenting time order states I have "reasonable visitation rights or reasonable parenting time." What does this mean? This means the parents have the responsibility for setting up a mutually agreed upon schedule for parenting time, which is reasonable under the circumstances. If you cannot mutually agree to a visitation schedule, you have the following options: (A)Contact the other party to see if he or she will agree to mediation. (B) Contact the Friend of the Court and request them to file a petition with the court to change your order to require a specific schedule. (C) File a petition on your own behalf or contact an attorney to help you file the petition.

2. I have a specific parenting time schedule that I need to change. What can I do? If you need a temporary change in your parenting time schedule, contact the other parent to discuss making other arrangements. If you need to make a permanent change,(A) See if you and the other parent can agree to a change (stipulation and consent agreement). (B) The Friend of the Court can provide mediation services, if both parties agree to participate. (C) File a petition with the court for a change in the order on your own behalf or contact an attorney to help you file the petition.

3. If the payer of child support is not making regular child support payments, do I have to allow him/her to have parenting time? Yes, parenting time and support are separate orders of the court, with separate enforcement procedures (see support enforcement section).

4. The other party is not following the parenting time order. What can I do? File a written complaint with the Friend of the Court office. If the Fiend of the Court determines that either parent has violated the visitation order, they have the responsibility to proceed with enforcement (Parenting Time Enforcement Section).

5. The other parent is not sending or returning clothing or other personal items for our child. Is there anything the Friend of the Court can do? The Friend of the Court follows the written Order of the Court. Unless your court order states each parents' responsibility for clothing, the Friend of the Court does not have any enforcement power.

6. Do I have to let my children go for parenting time if it appears that the other parent has been drinking or using drugs?That is your decision. If you make the decision to deny parenting time in these circumstances, you may be asked to explain to the court at a contempt hearing why you felt your decision was in the best interest of the children.

7. I am concerned about the other parent discussing changes in the court orders with the children. What can the Friend of the Court do? Unless your court order forbids such discussions, the Friend of the Court has no enforcement power.

8. The Friend of the Court has refused to enforce my visitation order. What can I do? The law requires the Friend of the Court to enforce parenting time orders. If they refuse to comply with the law you have a right to file a grievance regarding their procedures (see Complaints about the Domestic Relations Legal System section).

9. Does the Friend of the Court have a responsibility to investigate alleged abuse and/or neglect of a child? A Friend of the Court does not have any responsibility to investigate child abuse or neglect. Allegations of abuse or neglect should be reported to the Protective Services unit of your local Department of Social Services office.

10. I have a parenting time order, and my teenage child does not want to come for parenting time. What can I do? The parents of the child are bound by the court orders. However, you may consider one or more of the following: (A) You may want to see if you can work out a different parenting time arrangement with the child and the other parent. (B) You can file a petition with the court requesting a change in your parenting time order. (C) You can request that the Friend of the Court enforce your parenting time order (see Parenting Time Enforcement section). 


 Support Orders

A support order means any order entered by the circuit court which requires the payment of support. Support may include: 1) child support; 2) spousal support; 3) payment of expenses of medical, dental and other health care; 4) child care expenses; and 5) educational expenses.

Support Investigations and Reports

If ordered by the court, the Friend of the Court will conduct a financial investigation and make a written report and recommendation to the parties and the court regarding child support. Friend of the Court reports cannot be used as evidence in court without the agreement of both parties. However, the Friend of the Court investigator may be called to testify about their report and recommendation.

Child Support Guideline

State and Federal law require that a child support guideline be used by Friends of the Court and Prosecuting Attorneys when recommending appropriate child support amounts. In Michigan, a child support guideline has been developed which considers both the non-custodial and custodial parent's income.

For more information about the child support guidelines currently in use, you may contact either the Friend of the Court or your attorney. A copy of the guideline may be available at your local library. To obtain a copy of the Michigan Child Support Guidelines, contact:

State Court Administrative Office
Child Support Guideline Manual
P.O. Box 30048
Lansing, Mi 48909

Accounting

The Friend of the Court, unless otherwise ordered by the court, has the responsibility to collect and forward child and spousal support to the payee. State law requires Friends of the Court to receive, record and send out all support payments due, current and past due not less than once each month. Once a year, upon a written request, the Friend of the Court shall provide parties with a statement of the support account free of charge. Payments for support may be made by personal check, money order, income withholding or in person at the Friend of the Court office. Cash payments should not be mailed.

Automatic Support Enforcement

The Friend of the Court is required to automatically begin enforcement action against a parent paying support whose back support is in an amount equal to four weeks of support. This is to be done without waiting for a complaint or request for enforcement from the person receiving support.

If both parties want to temporarily stop the Friend of the Court from automatically enforcing the support order, they must file a joint written request with the Friend of the Court. If the custodial parent is currently receiving public assistance or there is money owed to the Department of Social Services, the parties cannot stop enforcement action.

Enforcement of Support

The Friend of the Court has may options available to enforce support orders. These options include:

1. Income Withholding Orders: Any income withholding order requires the payer's (person required to pay support) employer or other source of income to withhold support from his or her paycheck. All support orders issued in the state of Michigan must provide for an order of income withholding in the event delinquencies occur If the payer lives out of state, and gets behind in making his or her support payments, the Friend of the Court may begin an interstate income withholding action. In order for a Friend of the Court office to start an interstate income withholding action, it must have the following information: (A) Name, address and social security number of payer. (B) Name and address of payer's employer or other source of income.

2. Show Cause Hearing: If an order for income withholding does not work, the Friend of the Court may begin a civil contempt proceeding by filing a petition with the court for an order to show cause. If the show cause hearing is held and the payer does notappear, the judge may issue a bench warrant for the payer's arrest. Once the court issues a bench warrant, the responsibility for the payer's arrest lies with the local law enforcement agencies.

3. Tax Intercept: If back child support is owed, the Friend of the Court may request an income tax offset. A tax offset is where any tax refund owed to a payer is sent to the Friend of the Court and applied to back child support. For more information contact the Friend of the Court.

4. Liens: In some cases, the Friend of the Court may be able to obtain a lien on a payer's property. For more information, contact the Friend of the Court office. 


Modifications of a Support Order

The Friend of the Court is required by state law to review child support orders as follows: 

  1. Not less than once every two years if the children for whom support is being paid are receiving public assistance.
  2. When on its own finding or initiative, the Friend of the Court office determines that the amount of the child support order should be changed. 
  3. Upon a written request from a party, no more than once every two years. The office must complete its support review within 60 days and make a copy of its recommendations and supporting documents available to the parties or their attorneys. If the office finds that an increase or decrease is appropriate, the Friend of the Court must petition the court for a change in the child support amount. 

Questions and Answers Regarding Support

1. How do I get an order for support? A petition requesting the court to grant an order for support must be filed with the court. If both parties agree and sign an agreement (stipulation and consent agreement), that agreement will be entered as a support order if it is approved by the court.

2. Do I need to have an attorney to get an order for support? It is not required that you have an attorney to file a petition for support in a divorce action. However, an attorney may be helpful when filing papers and following specific rules. For paternity and family support actions, the Prosecuting Attorney can assist you with the filing of a petition for support.

3. Does the judge have to use the Child Support Guideline or the Friend of the Court recommendations when setting support orders? The Child Support Guideline and the Friend of the Court recommendation are used to assist the judge in making a decision concerning support amounts. The judge does not have to follow the Friend of the Court recommendation or guideline when making a final decision.

4. If I have been paying my child support and the custodial parent is not allowing visitation, do I have to keep paying support? Yes, visitation and support are separate orders of the court, with separate enforcement procedures (See visitation enforcement section - page 15).

5. The non-custodial parent is not paying support. What can I do? Contact the Friend of the Court and request enforcement if the back support equals payments of four weeks or more. You may also contact an attorney to file an enforcement action.

6. The payer of support is self-employed and no making his or her support payments. What can the Friend of the Court do? Income withholding orders are not usually effective when a payer is self-employed. In these cases, the Friend of the Court may seek enforcement using one or more of the following options: (1) Petitioning the court for a show cause hearing. (2) Submitting the payer's name for tax intercept. (3) Filing a lien on the payer's property. Contact your Friend of the Court office for further information concerning these options.

7. My court order states that I am to pay support through the Friend of the Court office. Can I pay the support to the custodial parent directly? Not without changing your court order. Support is paid through the Friend of the Court in order that an official record of payments is maintained. If you want credit for payments made directly to the custodial parent, you must obtain a court order that directs the Friend of the Court to credit your account for a specific amount.

8. If child support has been ordered by the court and either parent has a major increase or decrease in income, what can be done? The Michigan Child Support Guideline requires the Friend of the Court to consider both parent's income when making child support recommendations. If either party has had a large increase or decrease in income, they may wish to contact the Friend of the Court to request a review of the support order (see Support Modification Section). If you and the payee can mutually agree to a change in your support order, and you sign a written agreement (stipulation and consent agreement), that agreement will be entered as an order, if approved by the court.

9. Does the Friend of the Court have the right to deduct statutory service fees from a child support payment? Michigan Court Rules provide that the Friend of the Court may deduct unpaid fees from any support money paid after the fee is due (January 2nd and July 2nd of each year).

10. If I am receiving public assistance do I still get child support? No, all child support payments paid while you are receiving public assistance must be sent by the Friend of the Court to the Michigan Department of Social Services. However, if the payer is making payments, you are entitled to receive from the Department of Social Services up to the first $50.00 of any child support paid each month. If you have questions about this program, contact your local Department of Social Services support specialist.

11. Is the Friend of the Court responsible for making sure that child support money is being spent on the child? The law does not give the Friend of the Court the right to question how child support payments are spent. 

QUESTIONS REGARDING MISCELLANEOUS ISSUES

Change of Domicile

1. My order states that I cannot move my children from the state of Michigan without approval of the Court. How do I get the court's approval? If the parties mutually agree to a change of domicile and they sign a written agreement (stipulation and consent agreement), it will be entered as an order, if approved by the court. If the parties cannot mutually agree on a change of domicile, they have the following options: (A) Contact the other party to see if he or she will agree to mediation. (B) File a petition on your own behalf or contact an attorney to help you file the petition. Notification to the Friend of the Court or filing a petition does not allow you to move from the state, prior to a court order being entered.

Court Speaks Through its Written Orders

2. Why won't the Friend of the Court enforce what the Judge said in court, even if it is not in the written order? The court speaks through written orders, therefore, the Friend of the Court enforces only the written orders. If you feel that the written order is incorrect, you may want to order a transcript of the hearing from which the order was established. If you that the order does not agree with the transcript. bring your concerns to the attention of the person who prepared the written order and request a change. You can also file a motion with the court asking the court to correct the written order.

Property Settlement

3. Can the Friend of the Court enforce the property settlement provisions contained in my Judgment of Divorce? The Friend of the Court enforces custody, visitation and support orders. The Friend of the Court does not have the power to enforce property settlement orders. Referees

4. What is a Friend of the Court referee and what can they do? A referee is a person who takes testimony and reports to the court. A referee can be either a Friend of the Court or an attorney employed by the Friend of the Court. The Chief Judge of a circuit court may appoint a referee to hear any domestic relations matter (except an increase or decrease of spousal support).

A hearing before a referee is not the same as a hearing before a Judge. The findings of a referee are only recommendations to the court, and are no final. These recommendations will become an order of the court if neither party files an objection. State law requires that any written report and recommended order make by a referee must be given to the parties and their attorneys before the judge takes any action on the recommendation.

If a party disagrees with a referee's recommendation, he or she has the right to a hearing before the court. This hearing must be requested in writing within 21 days after receiving the referee recommendation (request for a hearing on an income withholding order must be made within 14 days). Contact the Friend of the Court office for the address to which the written request for a hearing should be sent.

Parent Locator

5. What can the Friend of the Court do to find a missing parent? The state and federal government have set up a parent locating service which can be used to: A. Locate a parent to collect child support; B. Locate a parent for deciding or enforcing a child custody matter; C. Locate a parent in cases of parental kidnapping.

The Friend of the Court, Prosecuting Attorney and Department of Social Services support specialist can ask to use this service. The full name, date of birth, social security number, and last known address of the parent to be located are required.

Adoptions

6. What happens to my child support order and any support that may be owed when children are adopted? Adoptions take place in Probate Court. The Friend of the Court must be provided copies of all Probate Court adoption orders. The child support order stops when children are adopted. The Friend of the court is required to collect all support owed at the time of the adoption. Contact the Friend of the Court to make arrangements to pay all money owed. 


COMPLAINTS ABOUT THE DOMESTIC RELATIONS LEGAL SYSTEM

Friend of the Court

1. How do I file a complaint against the Friend of the Court? The law provides a grievance procedure that a party can use when they have a complaint about Friend of the Court operations or employees. A grievance may not be used to disagree with a decision of a Judge or a Friend of the Court recommendation. A. You can file a grievance in two ways: (1) by filing a grievance form, which you can get at your Friend of the Court office: (2) by stating your concerns in writing to the Friend of the Court in which you clearly identify your letter as a grievance. B. The Friend of the Court must investigate and answer your grievance within a reasonable period of time. C. If you don not agree with the Friend of the Court answer to your grievance, you can file a further grievance, in writing, with the Chief Circuit Court Judge. D. The Chief Circuit Court Judge must investigate and answer your grievance within a reasonable period of time. The Friend of the Court Grievance Procedure ends with the response of the Chief Circuit Court Judge.

Court Order

2. How do I file a complaint about my court orders? Court orders are not covered under the Friend of the Court Grievance Procedure. Contact your attorney to discuss your legal options, such as a motion for re-hearing or filing an appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Judge

3. How do I file a complaint about the conduct of the Judge? The Judicial Tenure Commission was created to review grievances about alleged misconduct of a judge. Anyone who has serious concerns about the conduct of a judge can contact:

Judicial Tenure Commission
910 Lafayette Building
144 West Lafayette Boulevard
Detroit, Mi 48226
Telephone: 313/256-9104

Complaints concerning your court orders should not be sent to the Judicial Tenure Commission. The Judicial Tenure Commission is not an appellate court and cannot change the content of a court order.

Attorney

4. How do I file a complaint about my attorney? The Attorney Grievance Commission was created to investigate alleged misconduct of Michigan attorneys. Anyone who has serious concerns about the behavior of an attorney can contact:

Attorney Grievance Commission
600 Marquette Building
243 West Congress Street
Detroit MI 48226
Telephone: 313/961-6585