Working with MI Friend of the Court Offices on Custody

In Michigan, the Friend of the Court Office (FOC) manages custody cases throughout the legal process. Parents work with their county's FOC to get temporary and final orders for custody, parenting time and child support.

The FOC can't issue court orders, but it does make recommendations for orders that judges typically approve if parents don't file an objection.

Friend of the Court procedures vary by county. Parents should contact their local office immediately after filing a case.

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Friend of the Court services

Each county's FOC provides the following services:

The FOC also provides court forms and information. It does not offer legal advice.

People to know

The Friend of the Court professionals involved in a case can vary.

Case manager, case worker, or custody and parenting time specialist

When you open a custody case, it's assigned to a case manager (called case workers or custody and parenting time specialists in some counties). This will be your FOC contact throughout your case.

Early in the process, the case manager meets with the parents to try to help them agree on temporary orders.

Later, the case manager may hold conciliation meetings with parents to help them reach a settlement agreement. The manager will refer particularly complex or combative cases to mediation.

When parents can't agree, the case manager may make a custody and parenting time recommendation to the court.

Custody investigator

In a custody investigation (sometimes called an evaluation), a social worker or psychologist on the FOC staff assesses each parent's ability to meet the children's needs. Then this investigator recommends custody and parenting time orders to the court.

To determine their recommendation, the FOC investigator interviews the children, the parents and others connected to a case. They also review the family's personal records and may conduct home visits.

The court can order a custody investigation at any point when parents are unable to agree. Some FOC offices automatically do investigations before recommending temporary orders, while others do them only for final order recommendations.


A mediator helps parents resolve disputes and reach a settlement in the children's best interests.

Most courts require parents to attempt mediation before requesting a final custody hearing with a judge (unless the case involves domestic violence). The parents can work with an FOC mediator for free or hire an outside mediator.

Mediators don't make recommendations to the court, and everything said in mediation remains confidential (except when child abuse is suspected).

Domestic relations referee

In some counties, FOC domestic relations referees preside over certain court proceedings in place of a judge.

Referees — who are experienced family lawyers appointed by a judge — often oversee motions for temporary orders or motions to enforce or modify existing custody orders. They may also preside over some objection or settlement hearings.

When a referee oversees a hearing, they issue a recommendation to the court. Either parent can then file an objection to the recommendation and request a hearing with a judge.

Recommendations to the court

When parents can't agree, their case manager or investigator often makes a custody recommendation to the court on behalf of the Friend of the Court Office. The recommendation, which can be for temporary or final orders, includes a suggested parenting schedule.

In cases with high conflict or special circumstances, the recommendation may also include specific co-parenting provisions, possibly in the form of a parenting plan.

Once parents receive a copy of the recommendation, they have 14 or 21 days to file an objection, depending on their county. If either parent objects, both can present their arguments at a hearing. If neither objects, the Friend of the Court recommendation becomes a court order.

Opting out of FOC services (not advised)

Though experts advise against it, parents can file a motion to opt out of Friend of the Court services if all of the following conditions are met:

  • Both parents agree to give up the services.
  • They don't have a DHHS child support case.
  • Neither the parents nor the children receive public assistance (e.g., help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

If the court grants the opt-out motion, parents can't use any FOC services, including enforcement of orders. Opt-out cases also go through a much longer, more formal legal process.

Consult a lawyer before taking steps to opt out of Friend of the Court services.

Professional technology

The professionals working on your case have many tools on hand. One of them is available to parents, too — Custody X Change.

With customizable parenting time calendars, a parenting plan template, a digital journal and more, the Custody X Change app makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to custody and parenting time.

In Michigan, you can use the app to prepare for the Friend of the Court process, negotiate with the other parent, organize evidence, create a settlement agreement and more.

Take advantage of the technology the professionals use, and get what's best for your children.

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