The Friend of the Court is an agency or branch of the circuit court established to assist the court in divorce-related cases. The Friend of the Court is staffed with analysts who meet with the parties and, after obtaining data, make a recommendation as to whom should pay child support and in what amount. The Friend of the Court is perhaps best known as the agency which collects and disburses child support payments. When a support payer falls behind in payments, the Friend of the Court may initiate enforcement proceedings. The Friend of the Court also investigates and makes recommendations concerning support, alimony, custody, and parenting time.
Custody is one of the most emotional and traumatic issues in any divorce case. The “Child Custody Act” sets forth eleven factors that a judge must consider when making a custody decision. In determining which parent shall have custody of the minor children, the court will determine what is in the “Best interests of the child.” The court will look at the sum total of the following factors in making it decision as to what is in the child’s best interests:
- The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child.
- The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give the child love, affection, and guidance and continuation of the educating and raising of the child in its religion or creed, if any.
- The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in place of medical care, and other material needs.
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
- The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
- The moral fitness of the parties involved.
- The mental and physical health of the parties involved.
- The home, school, and community record of the child.
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preference.
- The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.
- Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.
The court has broad discretion in determining which factors are the most important. Disputes over child custody are very disruptive to all concerned, especially the children.
Child support is money paid by a non-custodial parent to the custodial parent for the support of a minor child. In determining the amount of child support, Michigan has adopted a statewide child support guideline. The guideline considers the incomes of both parents and the needs of the child based on national statistics showing what it costs to raise a child in a typical family of a similar income level.
Child support is modifiable upon a showing of “changed circumstances.” Support is usually ordered until the minor child reaches the age of eighteen or graduates from high school, whichever occurs last. Child support is paid through the Michigan State Disbursement Unit, PO Box 30351, Lansing, Michigan 48909-7851, and monitored by the county Friend of the Court. The Friend of the Court keeps records of payments and for inexpensive enforcement if an arrearage accrues.
Child support obligations are not dischargeable in bankruptcy and are given priority in bankruptcy over all other debts except federal income tax liens. A failure to pay child support over an appreciable period of time can result in felony charges against the non-paying parent.