When it comes to your kids, your home, or your future, you have the right to your day in court. But resisting the evaluation process performed by the Friend of the Court could hurt your chances when it comes to family law. Find out why fighting for your right to be heard could stand between you and the resolution you want.
Lately I have been running into a lot of what I call unreasonable opposing parties. I don’t mean they’re asking for too much in their divorce or custody battle. I mean parties who want their “day in court” and refuse to agree with procedural orders and Friend of the Court referrals that will resolve their cases faster. But because family law is based on relationships, trying to “stick it” to the other party won’t help you in the short- or long-run.
Friend of the Court Investigations Are Going to Happen
There is no reason to prolong a custody battle any longer than necessary. Whenever parents fight over parenting time, custody, holidays, or transportation issues, it is the children of that broken relationship who suffer. Whenever a motion involving children comes to the family court in Metro Detroit, it is automatically referred to the Friend of the Court. Referees and investigators will be involved in your case sooner, and more directly, than your judge. There is simply no way to get around it.
The Friend of the Court (FOC) is charged with investigating issues related to custody, parenting time, and child support. It has trained “counselors” or “investigators” (depending on your county), who interview the parties, gather income information, interview children (if they are old enough to express an opinion), and review any independent evidence connected with the case. A referral to the Friend of the Court for an investigation is a matter of course any time the parties dispute child-related issues. Judges rely on the investigative work of the agency, so they are quick to refer cases whenever there are questions about the facts.
And yet, there are parties who want to fight against a friend of the court referral. They want the judge to decide their custody disputes, not a Friend of the Court investigator, so they refuse to sign consent orders or cooperate with the FOC investigators.
Here’s the problem: Contested cases are going to go through the Friend of the Court. All being unreasonable does is delay the case and cost both parties more in attorney fees. Whether you make your lawyer show up to fight a request for a referral, or are held in contempt of court for refusing to cooperate with an investigation, all you are doing is slowing the process down. Unless you want to spend thousands more than necessary to get to the same result, it is better to allow the process to take its course. It will speed up the process and get you to a final order faster.
Judges Rely on the Friend of the Court
Judges are busy people. The Friend of the Court system was initiated to free up court time for truly complex legal issues, rather than hashing through time-consuming factual disputes. Judges rely on the work done by the FOC investigators because those people have the time to dig into the facts and get to the truth (which is almost always somewhere in between the two parties’ positions).
By resisting a Friend of the Court referral, parties are telling the judge that they think their case is more important than all the others on the docket. That may be true for you personally, but judges are required to treat cases equally. By forcing your way to the front of the line, you will only make yourself seem uncooperative, argumentative, and unreasonable. And that will hurt you when you get your way and the judge makes a decision on your case.
Remember that co-parenting is about being able to have reasonable conversations and determine what is in the best interests of the minor child. That’s the same thing you are asking the judge to do in court. If you can’t be level-headed enough to engage in the Friend of the Court’s decision making process, why would the judge believe that you could go through a similar process with your ex? When the judge weighs the best interests of the child, your bull-headedness will be Exhibit 1.
Settlement Is Better For Everyone
I tell every one of my family court clients that the vast majority of family court cases settle. And it is better that way. No referee, investigator, or judge can know everything that affects your family. No matter how thorough your family law attorney is, decision makers never have all the information. If you leave it up to a judge to set pick up times you may end up with a parenting time exchange right in the middle of dance class, or worse, your mandatory overtime.
There are some cases that have to go to trial. Sometimes complicated legal issues simply have to be ironed out by the judge. But in most family court cases, the lawyers on both sides know relatively well how the case will resolve before the first testimony is taken. Listen to your lawyer. If I tell you that you’re only entitled to 50% of the equity of the home, even though you have been making the house payment for 5 years, or that reunification counseling is going to happen, take that advice seriously. Otherwise you will end up paying her that much more and likely still come out with the same result.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a family law attorney at Schmidt & Long, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She handles divorce, custody, and paternity cases across Metro Detroit. If you have a family law issue, contact Schmidt & Long today to schedule a free initial consultation.