Actually, the correct question is “What is a Friend of the Court?” The Friend of the Court we’re describing here is not a person. There is a different type of “friend of the court” who can be a person – or a group or organization – who files a brief in an appellate court case. If they are not a party to the case, they are an amicus curiae (Latin for “friend of the court”). They may be providing additional information to help the court take a broader view of the issue on appeal, or they may be providing additional legal arguments for one side or the other. Either way, they must ask and receive the court’s permission to have their position considered. And they only operate in appellate courts, most notably in the United States Supreme Court.
Since CourtReference’s information is all about trial courts, we want to introduce you to the other Friend of the Court – the one that’s not translated from Latin, which doesn’t need the court’s permission, and which exists only in Michigan. This Friend of the Court is an office in the Family Division of Circuit Court in every Michigan county. It assists the court with custody, support, and parenting issues in divorce cases involving minor children. By providing investigation, mediation, and enforcement services, it also assists the parties in the case.
The Friend of the Court reviews divorce case files to insure that custody, support, and parenting time are adequate and are being carried out according the court’s orders. It also makes reports and recommendations to the court, and provides information to the parties. In many Michigan counties, the Friend of the Court provides forms and mediation services. Forms, publications, parenting time and custody guidelines, and the support formula come from the Friend of the Court Bureau, a state agency that oversees county Friend of the Court offices and provides training for Friend of the Court staff.
The Michigan State Disbursement Unit (a division of the Department of Human Services) is responsible for collecting all child support payments and disbursing them to the custodial parent. But local Friend of the Court offices manage the associated details including address changes, requests for modification, setting up income withholding, and collection of additional fees due to the Circuit Court. Some local Friend of the Court offices collect child support payments and forward them to the Disbursement Unit.
The Friend of the Court Handbook has details about the Friend of the Court offices’ operations and services that apply statewide. Detailed information about local offices can be found on those offices’ websites. Most Michigan county Friend of the Court offices have a website, and they’re all linked on CourtReference’s Guide to Michigan Courts – Self Help and Legal Resources page. Check the “Michigan Multiple County” section for links to the 13th Circuit Court Friend of the Court and the office serving Baraga, Houghton, and Keweenaw Counties. Check the individual county sections for links to single-county offices.
Friend of the Court websites in smaller counties may have contact information only, or a general description of the office such at that found in Arenac County. Larger county office websites may have extensive content, such as the Ingham County office’s with its video introduction and links to forms, forms help, FAQ, office map, and additional resources.