GENERAL FRIEND OF THE COURT INFORMATION
RESPONSIBILITIES OF FOC
Except as limited by available resources, the FOC will do the following:
• Investigate, report and make recommendations to the court on child support.
• Provide mediation as a way of settling custody and parenting time disagreements.
• Facilitate and assist parents wanting to enforce the court’s custody orders, parenting time orders, and medical support orders.
• Automatically enforce child support orders meeting certain non-payment criteria without the recipient of support having to request support enforcement.
RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE PARTIES
Each party has the right to:
• Expect the FOC to perform its statutory duties
• Be treated with courtesy and respect by FOC and other court employees
• File a grievance with the FOC office concerning a FOC employee or FOC office procedure
• Consult an attorney of his or her choosing regarding concerns
Each party has the responsibility to:
• Inform the FOC in writing of changes which affect the way the FOC must do its job, such as:
• Change of address
• Change in income status or source of income
• Changes in children’s residence
• Provide information to the FOC office to assist the FOC in carrying out its duties
• Obey all orders of the Court until changed by the Court
• Keep appointments made with the office, or cancel an appointment in advance and make a new one
• Treat the FOC staff and other court employees with courtesy and respect
STARTING A DOMESTIC CASE
Any parent who wants to start a domestic relations action must file the correct papers with the Circuit Court, according to specific legal rules. Forms for starting a divorce can be obtained for a nominal cost from the Clerk’s office located at the Law & Courts Building, 60296 M-62, Cassopolis, Michigan, 49031.
There can be many complicated issues and rules involved in a domestic relations case. The court does not require any party to use an attorney, but it is usually best to have an attorney to represent you whenever possible to file the correct papers and follow specific rules of law and courtroom procedure. At the very least, consider consulting an attorney if you plan to represent yourself. Many attorneys provide free initial consultations.
A domestic case is a lawsuit like any other, and expert advice is helpful. Much as you would hire a mechanic or a plumber to help you with a difficult job you do not really know how to do, you should retain an attorney if you do not know how to represent yourself. Just as with car repairs or plumbing, if you try to do a job that you don’t know how to do, you may not be happy with the results and it likely will cost you more money in the long run to fix the problems you create than you would have incurred if you had just contacted a professional up front.
Plaintiff’s Complaint & Summons
Every domestic relations matter starts with the Plaintiff filing a Complaint. The Complaint asks the court to make certain orders that the Plaintiff wants. For example, the Plaintiff may ask the Court to grant a divorce, legally determine who the father of a child is, provide for child support or spousal support (alimony), start an out-of-state support collection effort, or establish custody or parenting time for a child.
The Defendant is the person whom the Complaint is filed against. The Summons is a document that notifies the Defendant about the lawsuit and asks the Defendant to “answer” the Complaint. In a civil action such as a divorce case, the term Defendant does not necessarily mean that the person is accused of any wrongdoing as it would in a criminal case; it simply means that he or she is the person against whom the lawsuit is filed.
Being the Plaintiff means that you are the person who started the case and therefore you have the responsibility to move the case along to completion. Being the Defendant means only that you are the person against whom the lawsuit is filed. As a Defendant, if you want to have an impact on the outcome of your case, you must “answer” or otherwise be involved in the case. A Defendant cannot prevent the case from moving through the Court or prevent orders from entering by filing or refusing to respond or otherwise be involved in their case. Even if the Defendant refuses to participate in the action, he or she will still be required to obey the orders the Court enters in the case.
Failure to obey Court orders can have serious and far-reaching consequences, so it is in your best interests to be involved in the court case if you are the Defendant.
The Michigan Court Rules require the Defendant to be “served” (legally given) a copy of the Complaint and Summons. These documents must be delivered to the Defendant to give him or her legal notice of the action that has been started. One typical way to “serve” a Defendant is for a person other than the Plaintiff to personally hand the papers to the Defendant. At other times “service” is accomplished by mailing papers in a manner allowed by the Michigan Court Rules.
What You Need to do to Respond to a Legal Action
After the Defendant is served and knows what the Plaintiff wants the Court to order, the Defendant must make a decision about whether or not to “answer” the Complaint. When the Defendant files an Answer to the Complaint, the Defendant is telling the Court what he or she agrees with and disagrees with in the Complaint. At the end of the Answer, the Defendant lists the things he or she wants the Court to do in the case. Except for orders that are required by law to be included in every case, the Court will only enter orders for things that are asked for by one or both of the parties.
If the Defendant does not file an Answer to Complaint within the legal deadline, he or she may be “defaulted”. This means the Court will enter orders without considering what the Defendant wants, and that the Defendant waives his or her right to have concerns and requests considered by the Court before final orders are granted.
When a Defendant has defaulted, the Court could enter Orders giving the Plaintiff everything permitted by law for which the Plaintiff has asked, even if the Defendant disagrees; the Court will not know or consider the Defendant’s position because the Defendant did not present his or her “side of the story.”
ENFORCING PROPERTY SETTLEMENTS
The FOC only has authority to enforce matters directly relating to the best interests of minor children, such as custody, parenting time, and support issues. The FOC does not have the authority to enforce property settlement orders between the parties. This should be done through a private attorney.
The Court speaks through its written orders
Only written orders are enforceable. Therefore, the FOC only has authority to enforce written orders of the Court. If you feel the order does not agree with the transcript of your court proceedings, bring your concerns to the attention of the person who prepared the written order and requests a change. If that person refused to make a change, you can file a motion with the court asking the court to correct the written order.
DOMICILE AND RESIDENCE
Most divorce judgments and many support orders and orders of filiation (paternity) include a paragraph that tells parents they must seek the court’s permission before they can move out of state with the minor child or children of the parties. You generally must also seek permission to move more than 100 miles from your address at the time of your divorce judgment or other court order for parenting time (legal residence). This applies to a parent who has primary physical custody and applies to both parents if they have shared physical custody.
If the parties have joint legal custody, the court must consider the following factors in deciding whether to grant permission for a parent to remove a minor child from the state:
• Whether the move will improve the quality of life for both the custodial parent and the child.
• Whether the custodial parent is trying to prevent parenting time by the non-custodial parent, and whether the custodial parent would be likely to comply with a new parenting time schedule that would be needed because of a move.
• Whether the non-custodial parent is opposing the move because it would be to his or her advantage in paying support.
• Whether the court is satisfied that there will be an actual opportunity for parenting time that makes it possible to preserve and foster the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent if the court allowed the move.
ACCESS TO RECORDS OF A CHILD
Federal law and Michigan law gives a parent the right to access certain records or information about his or her child regardless of the custody arrangement. Included are medical, dental, school records, daycare provider records, and notification of meetings regarding the child’s education. The FOC has no authority to enforce this law against schools, health care providers, or others who refuse to provide the records. You may wish to contact an attorney if you are denied this right. The only exception to this rule is mental health treatment records, which are only accessible by the custodial parent.
It is each parent’s responsibility to gain copies of whatever records of treatment, progress, medications, calendars, and other educational and medical records they want for their children. Schools and doctor’s offices are generally aware of these laws and are cooperative. If you have difficulty gaining access to records, contact your FOC for assistance in verifying you are not prohibited by court order from access to those records.
To view the statute, click this link: Access to Records by Non-Custodial Parent.
ACCESS TO FOC RECORDS
The Cass County FOC values your privacy. When you contact the FOC office, please be patient as we will want to confirm your identity before discussing your case, or providing you with information. Federal and State laws prohibit us from sharing your case and personal information with others except under a narrowly defined range of circumstances.
Any person who certifies they are a party, a Court-ordered third-party custodian, a court-ordered Guardian Ad Litem, or an attorney of record, may request access to non-confidential FOC records. Records may be personally inspected, relayed by a FOC employee reading the request information in person or over the phone, or copies can be provided upon receipt by the FOC of the necessary copying fee.
The following individuals may also have access to FOC records, which includes some confidential records, in order to perform their assigned duties as prescribed by law:
• Child Protective Service personnel from the DHS conducting duties related to the investigation of alleged abuse and neglect;
• Prosecuting Attorney and personnel from Michigan Office of Child Support and DHS performing functions required by Title IV, Part D of the Social Security Act.
• Auditors from state and federal agencies performing audit functions; and
• Personnel assigned to carry out IV-D program functions, including but not limited to consumer credit reporting, reporting TANF collections to the IV-A agency, and providing notice to employers to affect income withholding. Use and disclosure of any information for purposes other than carrying out IV-D program functions is prohibited.
A written Access to FOC Records form (found under downloadable forms on this website) or other suitable writing, verifying the requester’s eligibility for access, and clearly specifying the records to be accessed shall be submitted to the FOC. Within five workdays of the receipt of the request, the FOC shall determine if the request will be honored or denied, in full or in part, and shall communicate that determination in writing to the requesting party.
Excluded are staff notes, Protective Services reports, formal mediation records, communication from minors, FOC grievances filed by the opposing party and the responses, any information the release of which is prohibited by court order, and information classified as confidential under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act.
Any denial of information shall include reasons for the denial. Any person denied access to FOC records may file a motion an order for access with the Judge assigned to the case, or if none, the Chief Judge.
Circuit Court and /or FOC records are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. MCL 15.232(b)(v) /specifically exempts the judiciary from the Freedom of Information Act.
Circuit Court files of record (not the FOC files) may be inspected by the public unless access is restricted by the court rule, statute, or an order sealing a court record. Copies of documents filed with the Circuit Court must be obtained through the Cass County Clerk’s Office, subject to MCR 8.105(C), and subject to copying fees of $1.00 per page.
Impact of Adoption of a Child in a Case
Adoptions take place in a Probate Court. The FOC must be notified by the Probate Court of the adoption.
The child support orders stop when children are adopted, not when parental rights are terminated. The FOC is still required to collect all support owed at the time of the adoption. If your child is adopted by someone, contact the FOC to make arrangements to make sure FOC has noticed and to pay all money owed so your case can be closed.