Starting A Case

(231) 779-9494, ext. 2012

A parent who wishes to start a Friend of the Court case must follow Michigan law and the  Michigan Court Rules. Since there are many legal and factual questions about these cases, people have the option of being represented by an attorney.

If you are interested in contacting an attorney about your legal issues, the State Bar of Michigan Lawyer Referral Service (LRS) can help you find a lawyer in your area. The LRS can be reached at 1-800-968-0738 or by filling out an on-line request. The LRS will provide you with an initial consultation concerning your case, which will cost no more than $20. Payment for any further services will be discussed before charging you.


Plaintiff’s Complaint
A case begins when the person filing to start the case (the plaintiff) files a “complaint” that asks the court to decide a dispute between the plaintiff and the other person (the defendant). In a domestic relations case (the sort of case handled by the Friend of the Court), the plaintiff may ask the court to do any of the following:

  • Grant a divorce via COMPLAINT FOR DIVORCE
  • Review the case to determine if an order for child support (including medical support) or spousal support is appropriate
  • Establish paternity of a child
  • Establish custody of a child with one (or both) parties by a COMPLAINT FOR CUSTODY
  • Establish each parents’ parenting time with a child or children

The plaintiff must arrange for the defendant to be served with a summons and a copy of the complaint. The summons tells the defendant to answer the complaint. Whenever minor children are involved, or if spousal support is ordered, the Friend of the Court handbook must also be given to the defendant.

Defendant’s Answer to the Complaint
The defendant is allowed 21 days to “answer” the complaint. If the defendant does not answer within 21 days, the judge may enter an order granting the plaintiff’s requests.

Mediation Conference & Hearing
Mediation Conferences and Mediation Appointments are processes in which an Friend of the Court mediator assists the parents in reaching an agreement. These appointments are scheduled at the beginning of every case and when Motions are filed.  If the parents can reach an agreement during the appointment, the mediator will help the parents craft a court order that contains their agreement.  If there is no agreement between the parents, the matter will then be scheduled for a Referee hearing.  After the parents have the chance to make their cases, the Referee will make a recommendation for a court order that contains the Referee’s decision.  


Start Making It Livable for Everyone

S.M.I.L.E (Start Making It Livable for Everyone) is a co-parenting program presented by the Wexford/Missaukee Friend of the Court to help parents learn how to co-parent while putting their children first and not in the middle.  S.M.I.L.E. is required for all parents with new Friend of the Court cases and also by Court order.  However, anyone interested in learning more about becoming a better co-parent is also welcome to sign up.

S.M.I.L.E. is scheduled once This three-session presentation helps parents learn how to best navigate the ins and outs of co-parenting from two different homes by minimizing the negative aspects for everyone involved and building the foundation for a strong future, for both the parents and the children.

The first session looks at the law and how adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs) can affect you and how you parent your children. The second session looks at how to co-parent with a focus on communication and how separation or divorce effects your children. The third session talks about various issues, such as distracted parenting, parental alienation, introducing a significant other to your children, and other issues that affect co-parenting and your children.

All sessions are at 9:00 am and 5:30 pm at the Friend of the Court office, 401 N. Lake Street, in Cadillac.  If you have any questions or would like to sign up for the next S.M.I.L.E. session, you may call 231-779-9494 extension 2008. 

 Temporary & Final Orders

The court will enter a temporary order with instructions that the parents must follow until a new temporary order or a final judgment order is entered.

Orders (including judgment orders that deal with custody, parenting time, and support) can be changed by the agreement of the parents or by filing a motion.  The Friend of the Court cannot change a judgment order by itself.

When the parents are in agreement to change the court order, either parent can contact the Friend of the Court office and a Mediation Appointment will be scheduled.  The Friend of the Court mediator will help the parents draft a new court order. Otherwise, a parent can request to change an order by filing a motion.  The parents can then make an agreement at mediation to change the order or the Referee can make a recommendation to change the order.

If the parents agree to change a court order, the court and the Friend of the Court cannot follow or enforce the new agreement until the judge signs and enters a new order that approves the agreement. 

Opting Out of Friend of the Court Services
Parents who agree that they do not need the Friend of the Court’s services, do not have to use them in certain situations. Those who do not wish to use the Friend of the Court’s services may file a joint motion to opt-out and, if the court approves the motion, the parents must then deal with each other directly. Before the court approves a motion to opt-out, the parents must file a document that summarizes the Friend of the Court’s services and acknowledge that the parents have chosen not to use those services.

If an opt-out motion is filed at the same time as the complaint that starts the case, the court must order the Friend of the Court not to open a case file unless one or more of the following is true:

  • A parent is eligible for “Title IV-D Services” because the party receives or has received in the past “public assistance” (cash assistance, medical assistance, child daycare, food assistance, or if a child is or was in foster care)
  • A parent has applied for Title IV-D Services, as described above
  • A parent has asked the Friend of the Court to open a case file
  • There is evidence of domestic violence or bargaining inequality, and evidence that the opt out request is against the best interests of a parent or the child

After a court case has been started and the Friend of the Court has opened a file for that case, the parents may file an opt-out motion requesting the court to order the Friend of the Court to close its file. The court will issue the order unless one or more of the following are true:

  • A parent objects to the closure
  • A parent is receiving public assistance
  • Within the past 12 months, a balance of child support was owed, a custody or parenting-time violation has occurred, or a parent has asked the FOC to reopen its case file
  • There is evidence of domestic violence or bargaining inequality coupled with evidence that the request is against the best interests of a party or the child
  • The parents have not filed with the court a document, signed by both parents, that includes a list of the Friend of the Court services and an agreement that the parents are choosing to do without those services

Parents who opt-out of the Friend of the Court’s services must manage and enforce child custody, parenting time, and support matters on their own. To ensure a proper accounting of support payments and that they are considered in future proceedings, parents may make support payments through the MiSDU even after a Friend of the Court case file closes.

At any time, if a parent applies for public assistance, requests any service from the Friend of the Court, or requests that the Friend of the Court reopen a case, the Friend of the Court will reopen the case file. In such situations, the court may request that a parent, or the Friend of the Court, prepare a written order to reopen the case.

Reconciliations & Dismissals
Not all cases handled by the Friend of the Court end with the parents divorced or separated. If the parents are trying to work out their differences and no longer wish to have an order in their case enforced, they may file a motion asking the court not to enforce the order.

If the parents wish to stop all further action in a case, they must file a proposed order of dismissal with the court and provide a copy to the FOC. In that situation, when the state of Michigan has provided financial assistance to the parties’ children or spouse while the case was pending, the support payer may be required to reimburse any previously ordered child or spousal support to the state of Michigan. This reimbursement amount may be less than the amount of assistance, but it cannot be more.

Before a case can be dismissed, the support payer must pay any amounts owed to the court or the county. If those requirements are met, the court will sign an order dismissing the case.

Paternity Establishment
The Friend of the Court cannot help establish paternity. The Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) and the Prosecuting Attorney’s (PA) Office work together to establish paternity. For more information regarding paternity establishment, click here.