For many years, the Family Law courts in Mid-Michigan counties would commonly enter child custody and child support Orders to the first party to file a divorce or custody case. This was done even without allowing the other party to have his or her position heard on these issues.
The Courts have resolved that this former practice was, on occasion, unfair and may have the effect of polarizing the parties. As a result, many courts are now referring these matters to the Friend of the Court for a meeting of the parties with a qualified Friend of the Court employee.
How the Process Works
The Friend of the Court Conciliator will acquire information from the parties and attempt to work out an agreement as to the handling of custody, support, and matters related to the children on an interim basis until the conclusion of the divorce. If the parties are able to agree to an Order on these matters, the Friend of the Court will prepare an Order to be agreed to by the parties and submitted to the Court.
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 this recommendation is typically adopted by the Court and formalized as the Court’s Order, unless objections are promptly filed by the party that does not agree with the recommendation. If such an objection is made, a referee from the Friend of the Court or the Court will then decide the contested issues.
Preparing for the Conference
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. Please advise your attorney as soon as the Friend of the Court Conciliation meeting is set by the Friend of the Court so the handling of the meeting can be fully discussed.
It is the common practice of the Friend of the Court and the Courts that attorneys are not present or involved in this Conciliation Conference. While it is possible to have your attorney present, experience suggests that having the parties’ attorneys present is not helpful.
Other Uses of the Conciliation Conference
The Friend of the Court conciliation process is also used 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 domicile of the minor children.