The Friend of the Court was established by the Michigan Legislature in 1919 to be the eyes and ears for Michigan’s judges, and a liaison for the court in divorce cases involving children. 

The county prosecutor was required to appoint a Friend of the Court based on the recommendation of a judge. The FOC’s job was to examine all records and files in divorce cases and determine whether children were regularly receiving support and were properly cared for by their custodial parent, and to make recommendations to the court regarding any need for better conditions. 

Here are some significant dates in the 100 years since the FOC was established:

• 1939: A candidate for the FOC position is now recommended to the governor by a court’s chief judge, and the governor makes the appointment.

• 1941: The court is allowed to apply wage earnings to child support obligations. 

• 1964: Wage assignment for child support payments becomes a mandatory employer responsibility.

• 1975: The Federal Child Support Enforcement Program was established through Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. It established the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) to oversee the program on a federal level and provide for a funding mechanism. Parent locator service was established and standards were set for state program organization. The Office of Central Registry was established. 

• 1982: Michigan enacted legislation having the chief judge responsible for appointment of the Friend of the Court, with one such individual in each judicial circuit and jurisdiction. The Support and Parenting Time Enforcement Act was added to increase the ability and power of the FOC to enforce these issues. A Friend of the Court Bureau was established in the State Court Administrative Office to create policies and procedures for all FOC operations.

• 2003: Federal government required states to implement a case processing system and incorporate a central collection entity for receipt of all child support payments and disbursement of payments to support recipients. Prior to this, all counties in the state received and processed all support payments and disbursed payments to recipients by check. Under the leadership of then-Chief Judge Maura Corrigan, Michigan succeeded in implementing the required system statewide. The project is known as the “Michigan Miracle.”

• 2005: Berrien County Friend of the Court established a totally electronic case file management system. All new cases established after this date are completely paperless, ushering in an era of greater efficiency in processing and use of office space.

• 2016: The federal government issued the Flexibility, Efficiency, and Modernization in Child Support Programs rule which requires states to develop criteria to assess a payer’s ability to comply with a child support order. The purpose is to focus on the individual’s capacity to comply with an order and identify factors such as employability, education and mental health prior to specific enforcement action being taken.

Contact: jswidwa@TheHP.com, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa