If you’re facing a divorce or custody dispute, you’ve probably already discovered that family law cases tend to involve a lot of paperwork. Unlike other areas of law, domestic relations matters usually require extra support from offices outside the courthouse. In Michigan, administrative matters like mediation and child support are handled by the "Friend of the Court" - these offices provide a wide range of resources and can be a great help to individuals going through a divorce or custody battle.
In Michigan, the "Friend of the Court" is not a person, but an administrative branch of the family division within each circuit court. Most counties have their own separate Friend of the Court offices. The Friend of the Court system was created by the state government and has been in place for nearly a century.
In other states, a host of similar administrative offices might fill several of the same roles. Michigan goes one step further by placing all its family law services in a single office. Rules and guidelines might vary slightly across the state’s 83 counties, but the role of the Friend of the Court is basically the same in all Michigan family law cases. While the Friend of the Court provides a great deal of services, the ultimate decision making power in family law cases still rests with the judge.
The Friend of the Court acts as the family law court’s eyes and ears, performing a variety of tasks outside the courtroom. Its responsibilities include:
Because a large number of custody cases involve child support, the Friend of the Court is responsible for managing the system that collects, processes and distributes support payments. In Michigan, parents who choose to use the Friend of the Court’s services to make child support payments are required to pay online through the Michigan State Disbursement Unit (MiSDU). Except in special circumstances, like a disability that prevents an individual from accessing a computer, Michigan law requires all child support be paid electronically.
No. The Friend of the Court has no authority to make rulings in court cases. That power belongs to the judge. In cases that involve disputes over parenting time, child support and custody, the Friend of the Court assists the judge by conducting an investigation and preparing a report with recommendations on how the judge should decide the case.
Michigan law requires that employees of Friend of the Court offices have a background in human services, behavioral science, family law or administration, which ensures that the people involved in overseeing disputes have experience handling the sensitive matters that arise in domestic relations cases. Although the court can consider the Friend of the Court’s recommendation in its final decision, the report itself is not allowed into evidence unless both sides agree. The court is also prohibited from basing its entire decision on the results of the Friend of the Court’s investigation.
The Friend of the Court office is not allowed to:
No. In Michigan, parties are permitted to “opt out” of Friend of the Court services as long as both sides agree. If you decide to opt out, however, you can’t pick and choose which services you do not wish to receive. Instead, you must waive your right to everything.
Parties who wish to opt out must file a motion with the court and sign a form acknowledging they understand they will receive no assistance from the Friend of the Court in their case. You are also not permitted to opt out if you or the other party receive public assistance or one of you has fallen behind on child support payments.
For more information about filing for divorce in Michigan and related information you'll need, see Michigan Divorce & Family Laws.
To read the legal gobbledygook, see the following statutes: