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Kent County Friend of the Court Ignores the Law and Hurts Kids

Doug Dante
Updated: Oct 12, 2008

I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.

The Kent County Friend of the Court is violating current law by creating a Conciliator who is normally
a psychologist. This person effectively makes all decisions about a child's custody and welfare without
rules of evidence or threat of perjury, which means that custody decisions are often based on which
parent lies the best.
Some General Concerns for any Local Michigan Friend of the Court

The court has a financial conflict of interest that may discourage joint physical custody or the higher
earning parent to obtain custody of children:

Some local Friend of the Court offices may delay or deny legitimate child support modification

Or refuse to respond to legitimate parenting time violations:

Or engage in troubling retaliatory practices:

Or may operate without knowledge of problems that fatherlessnes cause for children:

Any local FOC is under the direction of the SCAO (State Court Administrative Office) which created
the troubling CSPR (or CSPER) report, and the federal dollars also extend the financial conflict of
interest from the courts to the local Prosecuting Attorneys:

Some local FOCs may improperly use internal mediators.

Some local FOCs may unnecessarily delay child custody rulings, damaging the parent-child bond of
the parent on the wrong side of a temporary order, and risking making any temporary order a
permanent order through simple longevity:

Some local FOCs may fail to allow contemptors to speak at contempt hearings:

Some local FOCs may fail to properly ensure that the civil rights of parents are respected:

Some local FOCs may fail to enforce parent's rights to their children's school or medical records:
Some local FOCs may incorrectly substitute a software application for the correct child support
formula manual, creating an improper support obligation that may actually cause severe poverty of the
paying parent, which is not consistent with Michigan law nor in the children's best interests:

Or they may fail to act in the children's interest when there is clear and convincing evidence that their
custodial parent isn't using the paying parent's payments to provide for the children:

Or they may back date forms, etc, making it difficult for parents to obtain justice:

Or they may fail to follow court rules and allow for contemporaneous recordings, or alter recordings, or
unnecessarily delay transcripts, to make it more difficult for parents to obtain justice:

Or they may use biased custody evaluators:

Or lawyers and judges may fail in their mandatory ethical duties to report ethics violations of their

Or the mediators may not appear to act honestly, referees may seem less than fair, and judges may
rubber stamp decisions:

Or the procedures on getting public information from the judiciary may be obscure and confusing:

For local FOCs:




Be aware of House Joint Resolution NN, which would add already protected federal rights of parents to
Michigan's constitution:

Related short fiction:

Two free on line communities that you may find useful are:

Be aware that FOC custody recommendations vary significantly between various FOC offices , and
these variations also create differences in custody recommendations between various population
Some Concerns Regarding Conciliators in Kent County

The Kent County Friend of the Court is violating current law by creating a Conciliator who is normally
a psychologist. This person effectively makes all decisions about a child's custody and welfare without
rules of evidence or threat of perjury, which means that custody decisions are often based on which
parent lies the best.

This is in direct violation of the Friend of the Court Act, which mandates that referees do this duty,
record evidence, swear in witnesses, etc. These children and their parents are not given any of the
protections that the law mandates for them, making it easier for dangerous and violent parents to gain
sole custody of them.

The processes for Kent County FOC, especially the Conciliator, based on their on line handbook, are
similar to those processes of Oakland county, especially the Family Counselor, and violate the laws in
similar ways. See also:

Oakland County Friend of the Court Ignores the Law And Hurts Kids

Also, the Kent County Friend of the Court uses Conciliators like Ingham County:

For example:

Whenever, pre-trial or post-judgment, a case involving custody of minor children

is referred by a judge of this Court to its Friend of the Court for a custody evaluation,
the evaluator to whom the case is assigned is to schedule a “Pre-Investigation
Interview” with the parties. Said interview is to occur before any evaluation is
undertaken. Counsel may attend the interview, but need not.
At the interview, the evaluator is to assist the parties in attempting to amicably
resolve the custody dispute. If the parties do achieve a resolution, the evaluator is to
prepare and submit to the Court an effectuating order. That order is to be prepared
while the parties are still present and is to be submitted to then be signed by them
stipulating to or otherwise approving its entry.
If an agreement is not achieved, the evaluator is to assess, based upon the file
and what is learned at the interview, whether there is any realistic prospect that a
custody evaluation will result in a recommendation to the Court to make any significant
change in custody and/or visitation. If there is no such prospect, the Court is to be
forthwith so notified in writing. Then, unless the Court directs within 14 days of the
interview that an evaluation be conducted, nonetheless, the order of referral is to be
deemed vacated.
This administrative policy supersedes Administrative Policy 1995-11 entered on
October 25,


November 21, 1995
Chief Circuit Judge

While this person is called an evaluator here, he/she is otherwise known as a Conciliator on the FOC
web site.

This evaluation is mediation by another name. This mediation should be confidential as covered under
the FOC act. Furthermore, the court is delegating the judicial duty of evaluating the merits of a child
custody modification request, or even the original child custody dispute, to someone who conducts
his/her investigation without normal courtroom safeguards such as swearing in witnesses, accepting
and recording evidence, etc. Furthermore, this evaluator has a financial conflict of interest in making
the determination, as sole custody for the parent earning the least money puts the most Title IV-D
federal and state dollars into the pockets of his/her employer.

Kent County strongly encourages the parents to attend Conciliation:

Conciliation is a service that is offered by the Kent County Friend of the Court for those
individuals who wish to get custody, parenting time and support ordered immediately.
This meeting may provide the first opportunity that parties have had to discuss the
issues surrounding their children since the filing for divorce. The parties are
encouraged to discuss the issues, make proposals and review the alternatives. In the
event that the parties reach an agreement, a written document regarding custody,
parenting time and support called a stipulation will be prepared. The parties have the
opportunity to review the document before signing. Once signed, the document is
entered by the court as a stipulated order creating a temporary order that remains in
effect until the Judgment of Divorce is entered, or until further order of the court.
If no agreement is reached, the conciliator will prepare a recommendation addressing
custody, parenting time and support in the form of an exparte order. This document will
be prepared based on the information provided so it is very important that you attend as
scheduled to convey your information accurately. This will provide the conciliator with
all the information on which to base a decision. The parties can file a motion to rescind
or vacate the exparte order with the court within 21 days.

While the process is in theory voluntary, as one parent must request it, it is in practice mandatory for
the other parent, who is not required to agree to Conciliation in order to be bound by its mandatory
Furthermore, the FOC may be illegally coercing vulnerable parents into accepting Conciliation by
ignoring their duties to promptly handle custody matters as defined by Michigan law, and introducing,
or threatening to introduce, unnecessary delays in the child custody process as mandated by Michigan

I do not believe that conciliation is legal under the Friend of the Court Act, which says (From MCL
522.501 Section 1, Paragraph 2):

The purposes of this act are to enumerate and describe the powers and duties of the
friend of the court and the office of the friend of the court ... "

There is no Conciliator provided for in the in the Friend of the Court Act. The Friend of the Court Act
does not delegate the authority to create such a position to any county Friend of the Court.

The law does not provide for nor allow room for a conciliator. Meetings and conferences are always
voluntary under the law.

The Friend of the Court is also has no powers to make a recommendation to the court under the Friend
of the Court Act. Only the Referee may do this (From MCL 522.501 Section 7)

(1) The chief judge may designate a referee as provided by the Michigan court
(2) A referee may do all of the following:
(a) Hear all motions in a domestic relations matter, except motions pertaining to
an increase or decrease in spouse support, referred to the referee by the court.
(b) Administer oaths, compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of
documents, and examine witnesses and parties.
(c) Make a written, signed report to the court containing a summary of testimony
given, a statement of findings, and a recommended order; or make a statement of
findings on the record and submit a recommended order.
Please note that the law, not mentioning Conciliators, also does not give them any
power to hear motions, adminster oaths, compel attendance, or make a signed

Conciliators are doing all of the things that referees are supposed to be doing, but conveniently
avoiding all of the requirements of referees under the law to record testimony, follow rules of evidence,

Even worse, Conciliators in Kent county create ex parte orders on the spot as if they were Referees,
who are effectively judges. There are no recordings of these proceedings, it is almost impossible to
argue effectively later that a Conciliator violated a rule of evidence or failed to properly consider a
fact, there are no procedures for calling witnesses available, lawyers are encouraged to be silent, if they
attend at all, so effective legal representation may not be available. This creates a situation ripe for
abuse of power by the Conciliator. See the following information on biased custody evaluators and
financial conflicts of interest:

If a parent objects to the ex parte order, and previously shared custody with the other parent in a joint
living situation, the court may claim that the parent isn't continuing the original custody dispute, but
rather is requesting a change of custody.

This places the parent at a grievous disadvantage, because now the child's custody is not decided on
the best interests of the child, but rather the parent must first prove that there has been a change of
circumstances, and that there is clear and convincing evidence that the child's custody should be

Furthermore, if the Judge wants to do so, he or she may slow down the subsequent custody
proceedings, by appointing various experts and an LGAL, and issuing extensions for their reports. The
effect of this may be to slow the custody proceedings such that it can sometimes take over a year to
handle the dispute, and this further disadvantages the parent who felt that the original custody decision,
of which there is no accurate record, was incorrect.

This, to me, violates the fourteenth amendment due process rights of this parent to the care and custody
of his/her child. See:

Conciliators are also mediators who seek to get the parents to agree to custody. Again, I don't believe
that this is legal. The Friend of the Court Act 552.513 Domestic relations mediation, says in part:

(1) The office shall provide, either directly or by contract, domestic relations
mediation to assist the parties in settling voluntarily a dispute concerning child
custody or parenting time that arises in a friend of the court case. Parties shall
not be required to meet with a domestic relations mediator. The service may be
provided directly by the office only if such a service is in place on July 1,
1983, if the service is not available from a private source, or if the court can
demonstrate that providing the service within the friend of the court office is
cost beneficial. Any expansion of existing services provided by the court on July
1, 1983 shall be provided by an individual meeting the domestic relations mediator
minimum qualifications listed under subsection (4).

Counseling is obviously available from many private sources in Kent County. I doubt that the court has
a study on file showing that the service within the FOC office is beneficial, particularly one conducted
by an independent party. The Conciliator both provides mediation and makes recommendations. By
mixing the investigative and the mediation duties, the Kent County FOC appears to force parties to
meet with Conciliators, and thus with mediators, in apparent violation of the paragraph above. Simply
because one parent agrees does not mean that the other parent is not forced to meet with the
Conciliator. Paragraphs 2 and 3 make this more clear, by requiring strict confidentiality from

(2) If an agreement is reached by the parties through domestic relations

mediation, a consent order incorporating the agreement shall be prepared by an
employee of the office who is a member of the state bar of Michigan; under section
22, by a member of the state bar of Michigan; or by the attorney for 1 of the
parties. The consent order shall be provided to, and shall be entered by, the

(3) Except as provided in subsection (2), a communication between a domestic relations

mediator and a party to a domestic relations mediation is confidential. The secrecy of
the communication shall be preserved inviolate as a privileged communication. The
communication shall not be admitted in evidence in any proceedings. The same
protection shall be given to communications between the parties in the presence of the

If no agreement is reached, then there is no consent order, and the conciliator, who is probably not a
member of the state bar, can't work with the member of the state bar or either attorney to draw up the
agreement. However, the conciliator (mediator)does both, and goes further to issue an ex parte order

Mediators should never do that! It violates confidentiality. Even if they were to communicate with
anyone, they should only communicate with a member of the state bar or an attorney - not the court
directly, yet that's exactly what the Kent County Friend of the Court web site says that they do!

If a mediator is conducting an investigation and issuing ex parte custody orders as if he/she were the
Judge or Referee, much less if he/she were to simply make a recommendation that go before a Referee
or Judge, then there is no way that communications with this person can be reasonably considered

If the State of Michigan didn't make it clear enough that they didn't want mediators to be investigators
too, they added MCL 552.515 Section 15, Performance by mediator of certain functions involving
party prohibited:

An employee of the office who performs domestic relations mediation in a friend of

the court case involving a particular party shall not perform referee functions,
investigation and recommendation functions, or enforcement functions as to any
domestic relations matter involving that party.

So a conciliator who provides mediation cannot also conduct investigations, much less issue ex parte
orders. However, Kent county conciliators appear to ignore Michigan law, because they are FOC
employees who act as both mediators as well as effectively acting as referees without the appropriate
training or due process safeguards.
Conciliators are hired by the Kent County FOC as permanent employees.

When they act as mediators, this is in contradiction to the Michigan Court Rules. MCR 3.216
"Domestic Relations Mediation". It says in part:

Rule 3.216 Domestic Relations Mediation

(A) Scope and Applicability of Rule, Definitions.
(1) All domestic relations cases, as defined in MCL 552.502(h), are subject to
mediation under this rule, unless otherwise provided by statute or court rule.
(2) Domestic relations mediation is a nonbinding process in which a neutral
third party facilitates communication between parties to promote settlement. If
the parties so request, and the mediator agrees to do so, the mediator may
provide a written recommendation for settlement of any issues that remain
unresolved at the conclusion of a mediation proceeding. This procedure, known
as evaluative mediation, is governed by subrule (I).
(B) Mediation Plan. Each trial court that submits domestic relations cases to
mediation under this rule shall include in its alternative dispute resolution plan
adopted under MCR 2.410(B) provisions governing selection of domestic relations
mediators, and for providing parties with information about mediation in the
family division as soon as reasonably practical.

The rules about selection of domestic relations mediators help to ensure that as many mediators as
possible are selected randomly so that the participants know that those mediators are neutral.

Lets look at MCR 2.410, which says in part:

Rule 2.410 Alternative Dispute Resolution

(A) Scope and Applicability of Rule; Definitions.

(1) All civil cases are subject to alternative dispute resolution processes unless
otherwise provided by statute or court rule.
(2) For the purposes of this rule, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) means any
process designed to resolve a legal dispute in the place of court adjudication, and
includes settlement conferences ordered under MCR 2.401; case evaluation under MCR
2.403; mediation under MCR 2.411; domestic relations mediation under MCR 3.216;
and other procedures provided by local court rule or ordered on stipulation of the
(B) ADR Plan.
(1) Each trial court that submits cases to ADR processes under this rule shall adopt an
ADR plan by local administrative order. The plan must be in writing and available to
the public in the ADR clerk's office.
(2) At a minimum, the ADR plan must:
(a) designate an ADR clerk, who may be the clerk of the court, the court administrator,
the assignment clerk, or some other person;
(b) if the court refers cases to mediation under MCR 2.411, specify how the list of
persons available to serve as mediators will be maintained and the system by which
mediators will be assigned from the list under MCR 2.411(B)(3);
(c) include provisions for disseminating information about the operation of the court's
ADR program to litigants and the public; and
(d) specify how access to ADR processes will be provided for indigent persons. If a
party qualifies for waiver of filing fees under MCR 2.002 or the court determines on
other grounds that the party is unable to pay the full cost of an ADR provider's services,
and free or low-cost dispute resolution services are not available, the court shall not
order that party to participate in an ADR process.
(3) The plan may also provide for referral relationships with local dispute resolution
centers, including those affiliated with the Community Dispute Resolution Program.
(4) Courts in adjoining circuits or districts may jointly adopt and administer an ADR

Because only Conciliators act as mediators for parties in domestic relations matters, there is no ADR
plan for domestic relations mediation. Most likely, conciliators are assigned to a judge, and the same
Conciliator is always selected for the same judge.

All of the rules regarding mediation are then ignored, and participants should be very wary of mediator
bias, given that the rules to ensure that mediator bias does not exist are ignored and the court has a
financial conflict of interest that may encourage it to seek mediators which maximize Title IV-D
funding, by, for example, discouraging parents who would otherwise agree on joint physical custody
from making that arrangement, or leaking information obtained in mediation in a recommendation to
the court to force the parents not to jointly share physical custody, if they have a personal bias against
joint physical custody.

Worse, parents are required to give their income to the Conciliator before beginning the custody
evaluation process:

To begin the custody evaluation process, both parties are asked to appear at a joint
meeting. Parties are sent case questionnaires in advance which they are to complete and
return to the investigator (preferably prior to the initial interview) in order to provide
the investigator with basic personal information relevant to the case. Each party is also
asked to provide three references and income information (e.g. tax returns and income
stubs). Parties should allow 2-1/2 to 3 hours for the initial interview. Click here to see a
checklist of items to bring to custody or parenting time interviews.

Custody/Parenting Time Evaluation

Kent County Friend of the Court

This allows the Friend of the Court worker to quickly do a mental calculation and estimate how much
child support each different custody arrangement will generate, and therefore how much money his/her
employer, which depends on incentive funds from the Federal Title IV-D program and state matching
funds for the same, stands to gain from each custody arrangement.

Furthermore, this Conciliator can then pressure the parties to accept the arrangement that benefits
himself/herself and his/her employer, regardless of the facts or the best interests of the child, can
pressure parties, ignore evidence, or do whatever he or she would like to maximize income, because
there is no record of the proceedings. See:

What can a parent do? They can object to mediation under MCR 2.4.10 and request that the Chief
Judge ensure that the ADR plan is both in place and properly followed:

(E) Objections to ADR. Within 14 days after entry of an order referring a case to an
ADR process, a party may move to set aside or modify the order. A timely motion must
be decided before the case is submitted to the ADR process.(
F) Supervision of ADR Plan. The chief judge shall exercise general supervision over the
implementation of this rule and shall review the operation of the court's ADR plan at
least annually to assure compliance with this rule. In the event of noncompliance, the
court shall take such action as is needed. This action may include recruiting persons to
serve as ADR providers or changing the court's ADR plan.

If someone has successfully done this at the Kent County FOC, I am not aware of it.

Another option is to offer up a mediator under MCR 2.4.11:

(1) The parties may stipulate to the selection of a mediator. A mediator selected by
agreement of the parties need not meet the qualifications set forth in subrule (F). The
court must appoint a mediator stipulated to by the parties, provided the mediator is
willing to serve within a period that would not interfere with the court's scheduling of
the case for trial.

In this case, I would offer a minister or other respected and neutral person to act as a mediator. I think
that it's just straightforward to send a return receipt requested letter, keeping a certified copy, specifying
the court rule to the other parent, and asking him/her to agree to one of a list of mediators. These
would include ministers and other neutral and respected members of the community.

Another option is to move to disqualify the mediator under MCR 2.4.11:

(4) The rule for disqualification of a mediator is the same as that provided in MCR
2.003 for the disqualification of a judge. The mediator must promptly disclose any
potential basis for disqualification.
All of these rules appear to me to apply to Conciliators when exercising their duties as mediators.

The Kent county FOC also gives Conciliators the power to make enforceable ex parte orders. Again,
this is a power that the FOC Act only grants to a referee (MCL 522.507 Section 7 Paragraph 7):

(7) Pending a de novo hearing, the referee's recommended order may be presented to
the court for entry as an interim order as provided by the Michigan court rules. The
interim order shall be served on the parties within 3 days and shall be subject to review
as provided under this subsection.

Referees are also subject to tons of court rules that Conciliators can ignore.

MCR 3.215. Referees must be a member of the State Bar of Michigan. Referees are required to handle
motions in a timely manner (14 days). Referees must obey the rules of evidence. Referees must explain
the rights of parties to obtain a judicial hearing. Referees must maintain an electronic or stenographic
recording of hearings. Referees must allow contemporaneous electronic recordings and provide
transcripts upon request. Referees must make a statement of findings on the record or enter a written
statement of finding within 21 days, with proof of service. Referees must find facts and show the laws
they applied. Notices for judicial hearings to inform parties of their rights. Allow written
recommendations to the accuracy and completeness of that recommended order within 7 days.

This also sets up the referee as an appellate court, when the referee is the person you're supposed to
meet with in the first place! You have to jump through so many hoops to get to a real judge.

Please also note the lack of Conciliators, their recommended orders, etc in the Michigan Court Rules.
They don't exist.

The Kent FOC may consider Conciliation to be "binding mediation", although normally for the parties
to submit to binding mediation , they must both agree, and here only one party needs to agree.

There is a provision for "evaluative mediation" under the law, but not for binding mediation. Offering
such mediation may be perceived as a coercive act on the part of the court. They also fail to offer
evaluative mediation (where there is a recommendation, but no one sees it but the parties unless they
agree to it)

Best of Luck!