FRIEND OF THE COURT FAQS

CHILD CUSTODY FAQs

Q. If there is no court order for custody, do both parents have equal rights to their child(ren)?
A. This depends on several factors. If the parents are married, and there is no separation or divorce action filed, then they have interwoven, inseparable custody rights, with no distinguishing factors between parents. If a separation or divorce action has been started in Court, a Petition for a Temporary Order must be filed to get an Order for Custody (as well as parenting time and support). If the parents were never married, but paternity has been legally determined by acknowledgment or court order and one parent is ordered to pay support, the other parent is assumed to have custody of the minor child even if the order does not specifically award custody. Most recent paternity orders will award custody to one parent.

Q. How do I get an order for custody?
A. A motion 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), that agreement, if approved by the court, may be entered as a custody order. You may qualify for the services of Legal Aid of Western Michigan if you are unable to afford an attorney. Contact them in Kalamazoo at 1-800-819-0773 to learn more about whether you are eligible.

There are many complicated issues involved in a custody case. If you choose to present yourself without an attorney’s assistance, you still have the same duties and must follow the same rules, as practicing attorneys. The FOC or the Prosecutor cannot file a petition for custody for you. FOC caseworker and clerical staff are not attorneys and are not permitted to give you legal advice. Therefore, it is generally best to always have an attorney represent you when seeking to establish or modify custody.

Q. How do I change an existing order for custody?
A. A motion a custody order must be filed with the Court, or the parents can sign a written agreement changing custody (stipulation), which if approved by the court, will change custody. Sample Forms.

Q. After a petition for custody has been filed, and we cannot reach our own agreement, what does the FOC have to do?
A. The matter will be sent to mediation to try to assist you in reaching an agreement. If mediation is unsuccessful, the Circuit Court Referee will conduct a hearing and file a written report and recommendation with the Court, based on the factors listed in the Michigan Child Custody Act.

Q. Do I have the right to receive a copy of the Referee recommendation and report on custody?
A. Before the court takes any action on the Referee’s custody recommendation, each party or their attorney must be provided with to a copy of the report, recommendation and any supporting documents or a summary of the documents prepared or used by the Referee.

Q. 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?
A. You have several choices:
a)You can contact the FOC and request that they enforce your order.
b) You can contact your attorney.
c) 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.

Q. Does the FOC have a responsibility to investigate alleged abuse and/or neglect of a child?
A. No. Allegations of abuse or neglect should be reported to the Child Protective Services unit of the local DHS office. You can call them at 888-783-8190, or 269-445-0200

Q. My child is no longer living with the physical custodial parent. What can I do?
A. The age of your child determines the action you take. Under the age of 17, you should contact the Family Division of the Circuit Court if you think truancy, runaway or delinquency charges need to be filed.  If the child is 17 or older, or living with you, you must petition the Court to abate/suspend your child support obligation. Until you get a new court order suspending your support, you will be required to pay child support, even if the child is living with you. Suspending child support does not change custody. If you want to change custody and/or have the other parent pay support, you have to petition the Court for those changes in orders as well.

CHILD SUPPORT FAQs

Q. When should I contact the FOC?
A.
  Contact us for enforcing or modifying existing support orders.

Cass County Law and Courts
Friend of the Court
60296 M-62, Suite 3
Cassopolis, MI 49031

Phone 269-445-4436
Fax 269-445-4435

Q. When should I contact the Office of Child Support?
A.
 Contact the Office of Child Support if you:

  • wish to establish a child support order
  • cannot apply online for child support services
  • have not received a letter from us shortly after receiving your public assistance
  • need paternity established
  • were told you were in non-cooperation with the Office of Child Support

Phone 866-540-0008

Q. When would I need to contact the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office?
A.
Contact the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to provide requested information to establish your child support order.

Law and Courts Building
Prosecutor’s Office
60296 M-62, Suite 6
Cassopolis, MI 49031

Phone 269-445-4460
Fax 269-445-4409

Q. How do I get an order for support?
A.
 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), that agreement will be entered as a support order if the court approves it.  If the agreement differs from the amount recommended under the Michigan Child Support Formula, however, certain additional requirements must be met.

Q. Do I need to have an attorney to get an order for support?
A.
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 if you are not familiar with court procedures. For paternity and family support actions, the Prosecuting Attorney can assist you with the filing of a petition for support.

Q. Does the judge have to use the Child Support Formula or the FOC recommendations when setting support orders?
A. The Child Support Formula is used to assist the judge in making a decision concerning support amounts. The law requires support to be set according to the formula recommended amount under the formula unless there is clear evidence that the formula amount is unjust or otherwise harms the best interests of the child. The Court must record the reasons for not following the formula if it orders support different from the amount recommended.

Q. If I have been paying my child support and the custodial parent is not allowing parenting time, do I have to keep paying support?
A.
Yes, parenting time and support are separate orders of the court, with separate enforcement procedures. Violation of one order does not permit violation of other orders.

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

Q. The payor of support is self-employed and is not making his or her court-ordered support payments. What can the FOC do?
A.
Income withholding orders are not usually effective when a payer is self-employed. In these cases, the FOC may seek enforcement using one or more of the following options:

• Issue a warning letter to the payer of support 
• Petitioning the court for a show cause hearing. 
• Submitting the payer’s name for tax intercept.
• Filing a lien on the payer’s property. 
• Revocation of driver’s, professional, and/or recreational licenses 
• Revocation of passport.

Contact your FOC office for further information concerning these options.

Q. My court order states that I am to pay support through the Michigan State Disbursal Unit (MISDU) office. Can I pay the support to the custodial parent directly?
A. Not without having your court order changed. Support is paid through MISDU so that an official record of payments exists. If you want credit for payments made directly to the custodial parent, you must obtain a court order that directs the FOC to credit your account for a specific amount. If any support is paid directly to the other parent and not through MiSDU as ordered, it will be considered a gift and credit will not be given against your support account.

Q. If child support has been ordered by the court and either parent has a major increase or decrease in income, what can be done?
A.
The Child Support Formula requires the FOC to consider both parent’s income when making child support recommendations. If either party has had a large increase or decrease in income, they should contact the FOC to request a review of the support order (see Support Modification Section), or forms to assist you in seeking a change. If you and the payee can mutually agree to a change in your support order, and you sign a written agreement (stipulation), that agreement will be entered as an order, if approved by the court. If the agreement deviates from the amount recommended under the Michigan Child Support Formula, however, certain additional requirements must be met.   In most instances, parents are required by their order to report changes in income.

Q. If I am receiving public assistance do I still get child support?
A.
No.  Under current law, all child support payments paid while you are receiving public assistance must be sent by the FOC or MiSDU to the DHS. However, if the payer is making payments, you may be entitled to receive from the DHS up to the first $50.00 of any child support paid each month. If you have questions about this program, contact your local DHS office.

Q. Is the FOC responsible for making sure that child support money is being spent on the child?
A. No. Current law does not give the FOC the right to question how child support payments are spent.

PARENTING TIME FAQs

Q. My parenting time order states I have “reasonable visitation rights” or “reasonable parenting time.” What does this mean?
A. 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, most Cass County orders provide that you should follow the Cass  County Parenting Time Guideline (found in downloadable forms on this website). 

In addition, you have the following options:
a) Contact the other party to see if he or she will agree to mediation.
b) Contact the FOC and request that they assist you in giving you a form to file asking the court to change your order to require a specific schedule.  Form: Motion Regarding Parenting Time (found in downloadable forms on this website).
c) Contact an attorney to help you file the petition.

Q. I have a specific parenting time schedule that I need to change. What can I do?
A. 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 in parenting time. Form: Stipulation to Change Parenting Time (found in downloadable forms on this website).
b) The FOC 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. Form: Motion Regarding Parenting Time (found in downloadable forms on this website).
d) Contact an attorney to help you file the petition.

Q. If the payer of child support is not making regular child support payments, do I have to allow to have parenting time?
A. Yes, parenting time and support are separate orders of the court, with separate enforcement procedures

Q. The other party is not following the parenting time order. What can I do?
A. File a written complaint with the FOC office. If the FOC determines that either parent has violated the visitation order, they will assist with information to allow you to pursue enforcement.

Note: The Cass County FOC has no funding for staff to handle parenting time enforcement. However, the Cass County FOC will provide you with a form to file a motion yourself to get this matter back into Court.  Form: Motion and Order to Show Cause for Contempt (Custody/Parenting Time) (found in downloadable forms on this website).

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

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

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

Q. The FOC has refused to enforce my visitation order. What can I do?
A. The law requires the FOC to enforce parenting time orders. If they refuse to comply with the law you have a right to file a grievance regarding their procedures.

Note: The Cass County FOC has no funding for staff to handle parenting time enforcement. However, the Cass County FOC will provide you with a form to file a motion yourself to get this matter back into Court.  Form: Motion and Order to Show Cause for Contempt (Custody/Parenting Time) (found in downloadable forms on this website).

Q. Does the FOC have a responsibility to investigate alleged abuse and/or neglect of a child?
A. No. Allegations of abuse or neglect should be reported to the Child Protective Services unit of the local DHS office. You can call them at 1-800-382-4277 or 269-445-0200.

Q. I have a parenting time order, and my teenage child does not want to come for parenting time. What can I do?
A. 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 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. Form: Motion Regarding Parenting Time (found under downloadable forms on this website).
c) You can request that the FOC assist you in enforcing your parenting time order.

Note: The Cass County FOC has no funding for staff to handle parenting time enforcement. However, the Cass County FOC will provide you with a form to file a motion yourself to get this matter back into Court.  Form: Motion and Order to Show Cause for Contempt (Custody/Parenting Time) (found in downloadable forms on this website).

Q. My child fusses and cries when the other parent begins their parenting time (or when my parenting time comes to an end). Should I worry? What should I do?
A. Some fussing is normal and has been nicknamed “the transition blues” when a child goes from one parent’s care to the others care. Remember that all children have some stress and growth pain, even if their parents are still together and getting along. Be careful not to jump to conclusions. This does not necessarily mean there are problems with the other parent.  Make transition time from one parent to the other as swift and smooth as possible (no long good-byes.) Keep your mood upbeat and positive. If the behavior continues for more than three months, or consistently lasts more than a day after they have been with the other parent, consider professional evaluation and parenting advice.

Q. The other parent makes plans for things with the kids (doctors appointments and social events) when they are supposed to be with me. Is there anything I can do?
A. Neither parent is permitted to arrange for any appointment or activity for the minor children during the other parent’s time with the children, without the express permission and agreement of the other parent. Each parent is ordered to facilitate each minor child’s attendance and participation in school-related performances, and any other activities (e.g. organized sports, music or other lessons, church) in which the minor children are involved through the mutual agreement and permission of each parent. If the minor children were involved in these activities during the parties’ relationship with each other and the child wishes to continue these activities, each parent should try to accommodate the child’s continued participation in the activity.

Q. Can the police help me get my child(ren) for my parenting time?
A. Not usually. The only time the police should be called is if the child(ren) or one of the parents is in imminent danger. Calling the police for parenting time disagreements is very traumatic for the child. Law enforcement officers cannot become involved because it is not a criminal matter, and they can only refer parents to the FOC. In all non-violent situations, parents should make every effort to settle the dispute through the FOC, and outside of the presence of the child. While you work out problems with the other parent, reduce your child’s exposure to your tension and conflict as much as possible. If violence is involved, though, the police should be notified immediately.

Q. The other parent has not had exercised their parenting time in a very long time. Now they want to exercise it. What should I do?
A. Until the parenting time order is changed, you are required to follow the current order. If you want to change the current parenting time order, you will need to file a motion. Form: Motion Regarding Parenting Time (found in downloadable forms on this website).

Q. I do not know where the other parent will be taking our child(ren) for parenting time (I do not have a phone number to reach the other parent in case of an emergency). Do I have to let my child(ren) go for parenting time?
A. The non-custodial parent has an obligation to provide the custodial parent with a residential address of where the child will be staying for parenting time and an emergency phone number. The non-custodial refusal to provide this information could create an acceptable reason for the custodial parent to refuse parenting time.

Q. I have a problem with parenting time that I need an answer for before the other parent gets our child and I can’t talk with our caseworker before the child goes with the other parent. Can I keep my child until I get an answer?
A. Unless your child is in serious danger to life or health, you must follow the Court order and provide the child to the other parent as currently ordered, until that Order is changed.  If you want to change the current parenting time order, you will need to file a motion. Form: Motion Regarding Parenting Time (found in downloadable forms on this website).

If your children have been neglected or abused in the other parent’s home, report your concerns to the Child Protective Services unit of the DHS in the County where the harm occurred. You can call them at 1-800-382-4277 or 269-445-0200.

Q. I want to take the child on a trip, but it is the other parent’s weekend. What can I do?
A. Parents are encouraged to follow a regular parenting time schedule pursuant to the provisions of the order. If the regular schedule cannot be followed because of extraordinary circumstances, you should arrange an alternate parenting time schedule.

It is best to get agreed changes in writing signed by both parents. If you cannot agree to a change in the schedule, then you are to abide by the current court order. A Referee or Judge may order make-up-parenting time on a case depending upon the circumstances involved and the facts presented.