Family Matters: Avoiding mistakes when dealing with Friend of the Court

By Marie E. Matyjaszek

Navigating family law through the courts has a reputation for being slow, complicated, and gender favorable. Part of this is because family law is, by its nature, messy. It is made up of litigants who are good people going through the worst time of their lives, which heightens emotions and with it the likelihood of bad behavior. The high stress environment can increase errors by all involved.

Much like Smokey Bear’s advice that we too can prevent forest fires, litigants can help prevent errors in their case. The first and best way to do this is to show up.  Show up to every court date, every Friend of the Court (FOC) meeting, every mediation, every everything. When you fail to appear, your side of the story will not be told or heard. Don’t count on getting a mulligan because you forgot, or the time was incon-venient. The likelihood of accuracy greatly increases when all the information is known.

Keep your address and contact information current with the court and FOC at all times. If you represent yourself and the other party has an attorney, let the attorney know of changes as well.  Without current contact information, you will miss out on receiving notice of court dates, orders and other important documents. When you don’t receive notice, you can’t participate, and as we know, showing up is the No. 1 rule.

Read the fine print. If you don’t understand something, ask. By signing an order, you are representing to the court that you read it, understand it and intend to abide by it. Trust me, you won’t be the first person to be confused by legalese, nor will you be the last.

If there is a time limit for you to object to a recommendation, reply to a pleading, or anything else, follow it. Complaining about a mistake after this period has expired is likely to get you nowhere. Objecting to recommendations by the FOC, turning in questionnaires and supporting documents, filing briefs and exhibits and submitting parenting time denials are just a few of the things that are limited by periods of time. This can result in orders being entered that in your opinion, may not be accurate, because your information was not provided and not considered.

Finally, follow court orders. Not doing so is an error on your part. You don’t have to love the court order, or even like it, but it is an order that needs to be followed until and if it is changed by a subsequent order. Either party can file a motion to change an existing order and let the court know why it needs to be modified. While this may not result in the moving party receiving the result he or she wants, proper procedure has been followed and an attempt to correct the perceived error has been made. Blatantly refusing to follow a court’s order doesn’t help your position when and if you try to change it.

These tips are not foolproof ways to ensure bliss when dealing with family court, but they certainly will improve your chances.
The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed here are her own. Email her at:


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