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Let's face it...the Friend of the Court is about as popular with Michiganders as the Secretary of State's Office. As a branch of the family division of the Michigan Circuit Court system, the Friend of the Court, or FOC, is supposed to be the eyes and ears of the Court, and among other things, is entrusted with making recommendations to judges concerning child support, child custody and visitation in divorce cases. FOC recommendations are to be considered by the Court, but ultimately it's the responsibility of judges to make rulings that are in the best interests of the children, even if that means disregarding the FOC recommendation entirely.
However, it has become a popular belief that the Friend of the Court wields far too much power and that rather than improving the efficiency of cases and promoting the best interests of children, that it frequently complicates routine family law proceedings and further polarizes parents. If you agree with that position and you want to keep the Friend of the Court out of your Michigan divorce case, you may be able to opt-out of FOC services.
Under Michigan law, the Friend of the Court must open and maintain a case for all domestic relations matters, including divorces, unless the parties opt-out. However, not every case is eligible for opt-out. In order to successfully refuse FOC involvement in your case, all of the following must be true:
Assuming you are eligible, the procedure for opting-out of Friend of the Court services in your divorce case is rather easy. First, both spouses read and sign the Advice of Rights Form. Then, you must take or mail the Advice of Rights Form and Order Exempting Case with your county Friend of the Court so that the office can sign off on the opt-out. Then, the FOC will file the paperwork with the Court. Once the Judge signs the Order Exempting Case from Friend of the Court Services, your FOC case will be closed.
If you use DivorceWriter to complete your own divorce papers, you'll receive all of the documents you need to seek an opt-out at no additional charge.
Despite being understaffed and underfunded, for more than 100 years, the Friend of the Court has provided many useful and important services to the family division of the Michigan Circuit Court system, including enforcement of child support, custody and visitation orders. Assuming you are eligible to opt-out, it's important to first consider what you are giving up by doing so.
If you refuse FOC services, you have to refuse them all--there's no picking and choosing among services. Moreover, if you opt-out you're no longer entitled to FOC enforcement services if child support or custody disputes arise in the future, which they often do. That means you'll have to go back to court and either hire an attorney or represent yourself. Even if you have a divorce judgment that states that Friend of the Court opt-in will be triggered if a child support arrearage accrues, you'll still have to go back to Court to get the opt-in ordered.
In an uncontested divorce, it's easy to think you will never need the Friend of the Court. However, it's simply impossible to know now if you would benefit from FOC services in the future. That being said, for many, the FOC's reputation as a source of unnecessary bureaucratic red tape outweighs any future benefit the agency may bestow should relations between parents go south after post-divorce.