If you are a party to a domestic relations matter that is being handled in any of Michigan’s circuit courts (such as a divorce involving minor children, a paternity case, or a custody case), more than likely you also have a case that is being handled by an office of a friend of the court (FOC)…

Many people confuse the FOC as being a state agency, having a director and carrying the same authority as the executive branch of state government – however, this is not the case. The friend of the court is a person who is employed by the circuit court working within the judicial branch of state government – and therefore cannot be part of any state agency within the executive branch.

In 1919, Michigan law created the “friend of the court”, which later was defined in the Friend of the Court Act (1982 PA 294) as an employee/position within each judicial circuit court across the state. The friend of the court is defined by Michigan law as being “an employee of the circuit court…” [MCL 552.503(4)]. Every person who holds the position of friend of the court across the state is given an office and a complete support staff (including an ‘assistant’ friend of the court) to assist them in carrying out their legal duties as required by Michigan law.

Each local friend of the court, while overseeing their office of support staff, performs their duties under the direction and supervision of the chief judge in each judicial circuit. The legal duties and responsibilities of every friend of the court and their office are essentially derived from Public Act 294 of 1982 (commonly referred to as the Friend of the Court Act), and from Public Act 295 of 1982 (commonly referred to as the Support and Parenting Time Enforcement Act). Along with these laws, additional responsibilities of the friend of the court and their office are also derived from many other sources (such as court rules and administrative orders) which influence their activities as well.

The FOC is often referred to as the “investigative and enforcement arm of the circuit court.” One of the fundamental responsibilities of their office is to investigate matters concerning custody, paternity, and child support. Using the information gathered during these investigations, the FOC then makes recommendations to the court to use in creating orders for custody and for how much time children should spend with each parent after a divorce, paternity, or custody decision is made – and correspondingly, how much child support should be ordered as well.

In Michigan, as in other states, the amount of time a child spends with their parents is a key factor in determining how much child support is collected by the FOC and processed through the state’s welfare system.

The most integral part of the legal responsibilities of the FOC is the enforcement of the custody, parenting time, and child support orders, which originally start as FOC recommendations and are then signed by circuit court family division judges. According to FOC statistics from across the state, 99% of the recommendations they make are signed by judges and made into orders of the court.

Current statistics from Michigan’s Office of Child Support (OCS) show that there are now over one-million active child support orders that are being enforced by friend of the court offices throughout Michigan.

Because friends of the court and their offices are charged with the duty of enforcing child support orders issued by the courts, they play a vital role in Michigan’s state child support enforcement (CSE) program. This state program is part of a much larger national CSE program which is overseen by (and receives funding from) the federal government. The national CSE program, which is also known as the “IV-D” program because it was created within Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, is a key part of the nation’s welfare system.

Back at the state level, each county that is served by an foc and their office has established a ‘legal services contract’ (which is renewed yearly by the county board) with the state’s Office of Child Support (OCS) to provide local funding for the operation of the foc, and subsequently the circuit court. OCS operates under the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS), which was formerly known as the Family Independence Agency (FIA). These agencies are part of Michigan’s executive branch of government, and they receive and administer the federal reimbursement and incentive funding which is given to the state for the voluntary operation of the state’s CSE program through Title IV-D of the Social Security Act.

Because Friends of the Court are employees of the circuit court and part of Michigan’s judicial branch of government – their offices can never be considered as being a true “State Agency,” as this would cause serious federal and state constitutional issues concerning separation of powers. To make up for this, Michigan’s State Court Administrative Office terms the friend of the court offices as being “Social Agencies” instead.

The State of Michigan currently has 71 local friend of the court offices throughout its 83 counties, and receives hundreds-of-millions of dollars in federal funding for the collection of child support.

Congress has appropriated approximately $4.2 Billion for the nationwide operation of the federal and state CSE programs under Title IV-D for fiscal year 2006.

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