Family Law Section presents overview



Left to right: Patrick Finnegan, Family Court Services; Sandra Vanderhyde, Deputy Circuit Court Administator; and Eric Stevens Muskegon County Circuit Court Administrator.

Michigan Child Support Program Strategic Plan 2013-2017 discussed

By Diana L. Coleman
Legal News

The Muskegon County Bar Association (MCBA) Family Law Section hosted an update on Michigan’s Child Support Program Strategic Plan 2013-2017 at its October meeting. Eric Stevens, Circuit Court Administrator, Sandra Vanderhyde, Deputy Circuit Court Administrator, and Patrick Finnegan of Family Court services support establishment and enforcement-area presented an overview and then opened the meeting to questions from the approximately 14 members of the local bar present.

Stevens explained that Muskegon County is ahead of its contiguous counties in getting cases in and out quickly. “Sandra, Patrick and I are all referees, together with six others,” said Stevens. “We have just added a referee for the new program, attorney Jennifer Hylland, who comes to us from Legal Aid.  Clients in the new program will have to meet with her every 30 days during participation in the new program to assist them and see that they are staying on track. Our services help to move the process along in a holistic approach and put clients in touch with the correct resources. It is Muskegon County’s model that the State is now implementing.”

Stevens continued, “Family Court services will be working with the payers to keep them on track instead of hammering them about arrearages from the past ten years. Muskegon County’s plan is to do what is in the child’s best interest and to get parenting time and a support order in place even before services have been completed. This policy was established by Judge Ruck when he was Chief Circuit Judge in 1999. Once a case is filed, the process begins,” he explained.

Patrick Finnegan added, “We offer help to define custody and regarding understanding of exactly what is custody versus parenting time.”

Sandra Vanderhyde talked about the creation of a specialty court called SEED (Specialty Establishment and Enforcement Docket).  “We basically have four types of payers,” she explained.  “Those that can and do pay; those that can and do not pay; those that can’t pay but want to; and, those who just will not pay. We will attempt to identify the barriers that prevent paying support and assist in getting the support process running as smoothly as possible.

“The new program is somewhat of a stick and carrot approach,” Vanderhyde said.  “If a client enters the new program and complies with the arrangements developed for support in a particular case, they are not hammered about arrearages. However, if they do not meet the obligations set forth in their program, any reduction of arrearages is out the window. Referee Hylland will also be meeting with program participants to ensure that they are complying, or, if they have fallen behind, she will determine why and make a decision as to whether the party can stay in the program or what the family court services can do to assist them in staying compliant with the terms agreed to by the parties.”

Following their presentation, Bar members asked numerous questions concerning the new program and how it will affect their family law practice and the clients they represent.

Lunch was provided by Ladas and Hoopes law firm.