Family Guy: Ann Arbor attorney finds fulfillment as Friend of the Court

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By Jo Mathis
Legal News
 
Kent Weichmann tries not to take it personally when he hears someone say something such as: “Ah! I hate that Friend of the Court!” or “Friend of the Court is so unfair!”
But it’s hard to remain unfazed. Because—as he puts it with a laugh: “Uh, yeah, that’s me.”
From 1988 to 1998,  Weichmann was the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court, and in a few days, he takes on that same role for Wayne County.
The former Wayne County Friend of the Court,  Zenell Brown, was promoted to court administrator, which is good for Weichmann because she’ll be on site in case he has questions about past practices.
Not that he’s worried.
“I’m excited,” he says, sitting with a glass of peach tea in a favorite Ann Arbor coffee shop. “I think this will be a real challenge, but also a real opportunity.”
Barbara Kelly, Washtenaw County’s Deputy Friend of the Court, says Wayne County couldn’t have picked a better person to lead its agency.
“Kent is intelligent, committed to family law and the work the Friend of the Court does,” says Kelly, who worked with Weichmann for several years.  “He is a leader in the field and an acknowledged expert on child support issues.”
She says Weichmann is thoughtful, unflappable, and understands the complexities of the FOC, which deals with the court in the county it covers; federal funding regulations; IRS regulations; the Office of Child Support in Lansing; Michigan statutes; the State Legislature, and the families with cases at the Friend of the Court.
Weichmann is a Chicago native who would stop and visit friends at the University of Michigan when he was en route to Yale University. He fell in love with Ann Arbor, and when he eventually decided to go to law school and was quickly accepted by Michigan Law, that was that.
He liked it even more than he thought he would.
“Law is fascinating to me,” he says. “It’s always dealing with social issues and questions of justice, and trying to think of what’s a good result, and how can you decide something with a principle that you can apply to all future cases in a fair way.”
But in his one and only family law class, a favorite professor, David Chambers, convinced him and his classmates that none of them would practice family law because it was just too complicated and stressful. 
After graduation in 1980, Weichmann got a not-quite-fulltime job with Washtenaw County Friend of the Court.
He recalls: “I thought, `Oh, that’s good. I’ll do that, and in the meantime, try to establish my own private practice. And in the meantime, I’ll learn a lot about court procedure while I’m there.’”
But the people he worked with were great, and the work so interesting, that he took the job fulltime the next year and became a referee the year after that. A couple of years later, he became assistant Friend of the Court, and eventually he served as Washtenaw County Friend of the Court.
For the last 15 years, he’s run his own firm specializing in mediation, arbitration, and parenting coordination, which involves helping settle those visitation disputes that bring divorced couples back to court time after time.
“It’s sad, especially when you can see that people are involved in conflict, and they’re not happy, they don’t want to be in conflict, it’s really hard on their kids, and they can’t find their way out of it,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I really believe in mediation. It helps people find a way to resolve their disputes without going to court, and hopefully learn strategies so they can resolve future disputes as well.”
Weichmann, the divorced father of two grown children, has spent the last month tying up loose ends of his practice, which is located above Kilwin’s Chocolate Shoppe in downtown Ann Arbor. 
He’ll now refer clients to his office mate, Craig Ross, as well as to others on a list he’s compiling. Their lease runs out in September, which is no hardship for Ross—who spends half of the year in Hawaii and can mediate elsewhere.
The drive from Weichmann’s home on Ann Arbor’s old westside to the Third Circuit Court in downtown Detroit is 47 miles, which means he’ll no longer be walking to work. 
To make use of that commuting time, he’s downloaded lots of Great Courses  (http://www.thegreatcourses.com/), and is already well into Alexander the Great. After that, he’ll study the Civil War as he’s heading east and west on I-94.
All Michigan Friend of the Court offices across the state operate under the same statutes. But every county has its own strategies for accomplishing those duties.
Wayne County has one-third of the state’s caseloads, but less than one-tenth of the resources.
“Wayne County’s challenge is always to reassess their priorities and find greater efficiencies,” Weichmann says. “They’ve always been under-resourced, and so they’re just constantly reaccessing their processes.”
With such an impressive academic resume, Weichmann could have gone into corporate work straight out of law school.
But that didn’t interest him then or now.
“I was more interested in how law affects people,” he says. “Friend of the Court is a good place to be for that. One of the things that interested me about the Wayne County job is, if you wanted to talk about one place that affected more people in this state than any other, that would be high on the list. It’s a third of the caseload, and involves an area of people’s lives that’s really stressful. Doing that job well is really important.”

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