Understanding the Friend of the Court Conciliation Conference
If you’re a parent facing divorce in Michigan, you probably have a lot of questions about your rights as a parent, and what effect your divorce will have on your kids. Issues such as parenting time and child custody can have long-lasting effects on your family, and it’s important to make sure that everyone is treated fairly. While the divorce decree that makes your divorce final will dictate the long-term plan for child custody, child support, parenting time, and any other child-related matters, determining what will happen with your children while the divorce is ongoing is also important.
Traditionally, when a married couple with minor children filed for divorce, Michigan courts would enter temporary child custody and child support orders in favor of the party that filed first. However, the Courts eventually recognized that this practice was sometimes unfair and could have a polarizing effect on the parties.
To fix the problem, many courts have now begun turning to the Friend of the Court for assistance. In these cases, when a married couple with minor children files for divorce, the court will refer the case to the county’s Friend of the Court. The Friend of the Court will appoint a Conciliator (someone who will help work out disputes the parties may have), and the Conciliator will then obtain certain information from both parties in the divorce. This may include asking about living arrangements, the parent’s work schedules, child care issues, and any other matter which could affect the child.
Once the conciliator has obtained information about the family, he or she will begin working with the parties to create an agreement about parenting time, child custody, and child support, which will be used on an interim basis until the conclusion of the divorce. If the parties are able to agree to a plan, the Friend of the Court will prepare an Order stating the agreement, which will then be submitted to the Court and will become the official plan for child issues throughout the period of divorce. If the parties are unable to reach agreement on these issues, the Friend of the Court will make a report and recommendation to the Judge, and in most cases, the Court will adopt that recommendation and will issue a Court Order of the recommendation, unless objections from the parties are promptly filed by the party that does not agree with the recommendation. If objections are filed, a referee from the Friend of the Court, or the Court itself, will then become involved and will decide the issues.
The conciliation meeting is an important event in the divorce process. It is important that you promptly respond to requests for information and meetings with the Friend of the Court. If a Friend of the Court Conciliation Conference has been scheduled in your divorce, you should contact your attorney to discuss the conference and prepare for what you might face. However, you should understand that, typically, attorneys do not actually attend or participate in the conciliation conference.
You should also understand that Michigan Courts are increasingly using the Friend of the Court Conciliation system to address other Friend of the Court issues, such as post-judgment requests for an increase or decrease in child support, alimony, or changes of custody or residence of the minor children.