The Friend of the Court (FOC) is usually only involved in divorces involving minor children or in paternity cases. Sometimes, however, even a divorce that does not involve children will proceed through the FOC. Family Court judges have the authority under the Michigan Court Rules to refer any matter to a Referee.
Each divorce or paternity case is assigned to a judge. In turn, each judge’s docket is divided among that judge’s referees. A referee is a lawyer appointed by the judge to consider the common issues of custody, support and parenting-time in each case and to make recommendations to the court for resolution of these issues. Following this initial determination, the parties can accept the referee’s recommendation or can reject them and have a hearing before the judge assigned to the case for a final determination.
In addition, each referee has a staff of family law professionals usually consisting of a family counselor and a child support specialist. Some county court budgets do not allow for full staffing of these positions and the referee will play a larger role.
You will meet your referee at the Early Intervention Conference. This is where the referee will discuss with you and your spouse what you believe the issues are in your case. Attorneys play a limited role at this conference and the goal is to communicate with the referee so that problem issues can be identified and addressed, at least temporarily.
Whenever possible, it is usually best to attempt to work things out with your spouse during a divorce. Obviously this is easier said than done; after all, you are involved in a divorce. Sometimes the prospect of a clean break coupled with a new start motivates parties to cooperate. The effect of cooperation between the parties during divorce is to minimize the involvement and interference of the FOC.