How to get the most out of Friend of the Court

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

Every Friend of the Court (FOC) is a little different, but overall the mission is the same – to look out for the best interests of the children in the court system. I’m going to give some pointers on how you can get the most out of your FOC case managers and staff.

Most FOCs assign specified workers based on the last name of one of the parties – two common methods include assigning by the father’s last name or by the payer’s last name. By doing this, it allows parties and staff to become familiar with each other.  One worker does not necessarily know EVERYTHING about your case file – they are highly trained in a specific area, but may have only general knowledge about a process that occurs in another department.  I would recommend that when your case is opened, ask for the names and contact information of the workers assigned to your case, in each department. This will help you avoid a lot of transferred calls and “I’m not sure” answers to your questions.

Be patient with hold times on the phone – I know it’s frustrating, but the volume of cases the FOC handles each day is astounding. Yelling will not change the wait time you already endured, nor will it solve your problem. While the FOC is certainly no stranger to upset customers, no one likes to be personally attacked.

Have your case number, or at minimum, your Social Security number, available before you make the telephone call. Your case number is pretty much the golden ticket for your worker to access your case quickly and correctly. Write down your questions ahead of time and then write down the answers you are given, along with the worker’s name, date and time you spoke to him or her.  Too often people will say that they spoke to “us” or “a lady,” and if by chance the worker did not put a note in one of the various computer systems, we don’t know who you talked to.

Personally, I would recommend e-mailing FOC staff whenever possible – this provides us with a paper trail, which we can easily upload into our files.  By having the information written down, you can refer to it again and again if need be. Some information cannot be given over email, and you may need to come down to the office. If you appear in person, bring your state issued ID – whether a driver’s license or ID card. We have to verify who you are in order to provide access to your files, or provide you with specific information.

I cannot stress how important this next piece of advice is – always keep your address and contact information up to date! If you only take away one thing from this article, this should be it!  The FOC’s primary method of communication is mail. Yes, we can send out postal verification requests, and sometimes the returned mail may provide information, but ultimately it is your responsibility to advise the FOC if any of your contact information changes.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “I never received that notice!” The answer to my follow up question “is this your current address?” is more often than not “no.” We are obligated to send mail to your last known legal address on file, even if it’s a known incorrect address.

If your address isn’t updated, you can miss very important appointments, court dates, and deadlines for objecting to various recommendations. This can result in court orders being entered that you may not know about, and/or don’t agree with. Trust me, you don’t want to be notified of an increase in your child support by having a much larger chunk come out of your paycheck one day.

My next article will continue my sage advice on managing your case with the FOC.

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The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own.  Her blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached at matyjasz@hotmail.com.
 

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