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By Roberta Gubbins

Legal News

A new year, new forms and new procedures in the Friend of the Court led the members of the Ingham County Bar to gather at the State Bar of Michigan to listen Shauna Dunnings, Ingham County Friend of the Court (FOC) and Robert Hotchkiss, Assistant FOC, Legal explain the changes.

Hotchkiss began the session, held on February 2nd, stating that "I will cover three areas, the new Uniform Child Support orders, opting out of the FOC and orders with no support orders."

As of Jan 1st of 2012, the new uniform child support form is available from SCAO (State Court Administrative Office) He stressed that the most recent form, which can be identified by looking at "the bottom left hand corner of the USO, you will see FOC 1052 3/11," must be used.

He urged his listeners to be sure to fill out the form completely. Some items that might be missing include:

* An effective date or dates in conflict in different parts of the form

* The math is wrong

* Situations where there are three children with only support for two listed

* Spell out details of parenting--overnights, how many and when

* If not following the guidelines, explain reasons with specificity

Opting out of FOC services "can get crazy." The requirements for opting out are statutory. [MCL 552.505(a)] Parties can't opt out if they have a history of domestic violence, are receiving public assistance, there are money due to the state, or there is an arrearage or custody order violation that has occurred within the past 12 months. If denied, parties can have a hearing before the judge.

If your client does qualify for opting out, the documents required include an advice of rights and an order exempting case from FOC services. In situations, he noted, where the documents are stand-alone, a hearing is required.

Dunnings interjected that "there has to be an order exempting the case from FOC services," The USO form including language "no FOC services" used alone is a "defective order. If we don't have that order (exempting the case) we can't move forward."

The third problem area, Hotchkiss noted, was orders that do not include a uniform child support or spousal support orders (USO), for example a judgment of divorce without the USO; "we have to have that order. Even in situations where there is no child support, the order must be included."

Dunnings began noting that "most of you will have a divorce case that you are initiating with prior orders (support, custody or parentage) are out there. When we get the marriage certificate, we abate the support, so the case is still alive; it's just inactive. Then the divorce comes in. In our office, we continue to bill support under the prior orders."

She recommended that lawyers be aware of those prior orders and consolidate them in the new judgment of divorce. Dunning then went on to explain the processes in her office:

1. Concerns about speed of cases moving through the system have led to changes. Now all prejudgment cases are expected to be heard within 21 days of the objection. The judge must approve an adjournment and there can't be an adjournment without a new hearing date.

2. Following a referee hearing, the order must be filed within 21 days or there will be a no progress proceeding.

3. When asking for a hearing, she asked that lawyers "be candid about time needed--ask for what you need. We are now under pressure cooker to get cases set within 21 days."

4. When writing the order for supervised parenting, please specify who pays for what and the reasons for supervision, because it affects the type of supervisor for the situation.

5. Dunnings noted that Safe Haven's grant was awarded to Ingham County, EVE, Inc and Chance at Childhood, to establish the Oasis Family Center, which will open in the spring or summer. They will provide supervised visitation on cases where there has been a finding of domestic violence. The Michigan State Chance at Childhood program with social work and law students will staff it. They will accept cases from court ordered referrals.

6. Show cause notices are automatically generated by the Michigan Child Support enforcement system. Lawyers who don't get notice, "call our office and we will adjourn it."

7. FOC website: the official website is www.fc.ingham.org. If it doesn't say .org, it's not official and you will be asked to pay for the forms.

Robert Hotchkiss received his Bachelor's degree from Temple University and is a graduate of Cooley Law School. He has been Assistant FOC in Ingham County since 2009. Shauna Dunnings came to Ingham County as FOC in 2007 from Eaton County. Todd Selin and Carrie E. Folts Huff share duties as Co-chairs of the Family Law Section of the Ingham County Bar Association.

Published: Thu, Feb 9, 2012