Friend of the Court
Assistant Friend of the Court
(231) 779-9494, ext. 2002
Referee Benjamin Hicok
Motions, Appointments, & Hearings
Sandra Huttenga, Assistant Friend of the Court
(231) 779-9494, ext. 2002
A party may file a motion to change the custody, parenting-time, or the child support of their court order, if the party can show proper cause or a change in circumstances. The FOC office has printed forms and instructions for filing this type of motion. While parties do have the option of hiring an attorney to assist with their motion, parties can file motions without the help of an attorney. Even in situations where the parties have agreed to a change, the current order remains in effect until a motion is filed, a status conference or hearing is conducted, the judge signs the new order, and it is filed with the Wexford County Clerk or the Missaukee County Clerk.
When a custody, parenting time, or child support motion is filed with this office, it is scheduled by Assistant Friend of the Court Sandra Huttenga for either a status conference or a hearing. Mrs. Huttenga is also the ADA coordinator for this office–If any parties require special assistance (ex., an interpreter, a sign language interpreter, etc.) to attend the hearing, contact Sandra Huttenga at (231) 779-9494, ext. 2002 to make those arrangements before the time of your appointment or hearing.
Sally Randall, Friend of the Court
Parties involved in a domestic relations case are encouraged to participate in a status conference, which may allow them to settle a case without further court involvement. Status conferences allow parties the opportunity to settle their issues regarding custody and parenting time with the assistance of an FOC facilitator. Parties often find this rewarding because they make the decisions, instead of the court. If the parties wish to do so, the facilitator can put their agreement into the form of a court order.
Participation in status conference appointments are voluntary–if a party does not wish to make an agreement regarding custody or parenting time, they are not required to. However, if the parties reach an agreement during a status conference, the facilitator can put that agreement into the form of a court order. The parties may review their agreement with their attorneys, if they wish to do so. If no agreement is reached, the matter will then be scheduled for a Referee hearing.
Status conferences are scheduled in cases where the parties are represented by attorneys and as a mandatory part of the S.M.I.L.E. Program at the beginning of divorce and custody cases. They are also scheduled after a final order has been entered in a case.
FOC facilitators who are employed in a professional capacity must report suspected child abuse and/or neglect. Also FOC facilitators who suspect domestic violence must report it to the proper authorities. All other matters discussed during a status conference are confidential.
Referee Benjamin Hicok
At this office, hearings are presided over by a referee. A referee is not a judge, but performs some tasks on behalf of the judges who preside over the case–Judge Van Alst in Wexford County, Judge Ransom in Missaukee County.
The referee is appointed to hear testimony and arguments on any issue in a domestic relations case except spousal support (alimony)–that can only be heard by a judge. A hearing is conducted and evidence is presented according to the Michigan Rules of Evidence–parties have the option of filing subpoenas if they feel it necessary. When completed, the referee makes a decision in the form of a referee’s recommended order. A referee’s recommended order only recommends a resolution to the judge. A recommended order must be submitted to the court and served on the attorneys or unrepresented parties. Proof of service must be filed with the court.
A referee’s recommendation will become a court order if no parties file an objection within 21 days after the recommendation is delivered. If a party wishes to object to the referee’s recommendation, they must file an Objection to Referee Recommended Order and request for a hearing with this office within that 21 day period. The Friend of the Court office will then schedule a hearing before either Judge Van Alst or Judge Ransom (depending on which county the case is under) and the Judge will make a decision upholding or changing the referee’s recommendation. Parties are welcome to consult an attorney for more information on how to object to a referee’s recommendation and how to request a hearing before a judge. Some FOC offices will provide written instructions that explain how to file an objection.
In some cases, the court may make the referee’s recommended order effective temporarily—until the 21 day time to object to the order expires or until the judge hears an objection at a new hearing.