Custody and Parenting Time evaluations, and also referred to as investigations or assessments) are initiated after a written order from the Circuit Court. At the discretion of the Court there may be a fee for your custody and/or parenting time evaluation. The Order referring your case to the Friend of the Court office will address the fee amount, how the amount is to be proportioned between the parents and whether or not the fee is waived or reserved. If the fee has been reserved the evaluator may address the fee in their recommendation. The total fee needs to be paid at the Friend of the Court Office, cash or money order ONLY, within seven days from the date of the Order (unless otherwise specified in your Order). If the fee is not paid within the seven days, your evaluation will be TERMINATED. If one parent pays and the other parent fails to pay the fee your evaluation will be TERMINATED. Your evaluation WILL NOT BE SCHEDULED until the entire fee has been paid in full. The parents participate in an initial interview together at which time the evaluator decides whether or not to continue the evaluation, or if the process will be abbreviated (Administrative Policy 1995-11A).
The purpose of the evaluation is to gather information regarding the best interests of the child/ren as defined in the factors listed in the Michigan Child Custody Act. To this end, an evaluation is conducted which results in a written report and recommendation for the court.
After the evaluation fees have been paid, both parents are scheduled to appear at a joint meeting. They are sent case questionnaires in advance, which they are to complete and return to the evaluator (prior to the initial interview) in order to provide the evaluator with basic personal information relevant to the case. Each parent is also asked to provide three references and income information (e.g., tax returns and income stubs). Click here to see a checklist of items to bring to the interviews. Parents should allow 1 - 3 hours for the initial interview.
When both parents arrive for their interview, one of the first things that will occur is the confirmation of important information such as address, telephone number, place of employment, etc. The evaluator will then determine who filed the action that brought them to the evaluation and why, getting a response from both parents. The parents are encouraged to come to an agreement, as this would be in the best interest of all involved, especially the child/ren. If this cannot occur, the evaluation will proceed. The evaluator will attempt to get a complete understanding of each parent's interaction with the child/ren as outlined by the child custody factors. The questions asked by the evaluator may be emotionally difficult to respond to, but keep in mind, the evaluator is a neutral person collecting information about your family. The facts of the case will be considered based on their relation to the child/ren's well being. The underlying motivation for this entire proceeding is to come to a conclusion that is in the best interest of the child/ren.
Following the initial interview, the evaluator will determine what additional information is necessary to prepare a report that will serve the interest of the child/ren. Additional information may include individual appointments, interviews of counselors, teachers, daycare providers or other significant people in the child/ren's life. It may also include mental health or police records, drug test results, psychological testing, home investigations or reference information collected through written questionnaires. The evaluator may set up interviews with the child/ren depending upon the age and developmental stage, of the child/ren, and which would occur outside the presence of either parent.
All information gathered from the sum of these sources is then reviewed and applied to the child custody factors. Though the report and recommendation may not list each factor in an abbreviated report, the factors are still considered. The written report and recommendation begins with general information, legal history, marital history, and positions of both parents. The evaluator then attempts to give a preference for each factor, favoring the mother, favoring the father, or indicating no preference. These preferences will reflect logical reasoning and will be supported by the facts of the case. After going through the child custody factors, the evaluator will include a conclusion section, which is a summary of the most important findings. The recommendation itself follows the conclusion.
The recommendation is not based on the number of factors on which each parent is given preference, as information under certain factors may carry more weight than others. The recommendation will address how parenting will occur including when each parent will spend time with the child/ren, how decisions will be made for the child/ren, and how each parent will contribute to the financial responsibility for the child/ren.
The written report is signed by the evaluator, then sent to both parents, both attorneys if any, and filed with the Circuit Court. For most cases, a proposed order is attached to the report and recommendation which comports to the recommendation allowing the parents, or their attorneys, to object within 21 days. If there is no objection and the court agrees, then the proposed order becomes the order of the court. If either parent or their attorney objects, a hearing is scheduled. Either parent (if unrepresented) or their attorney has the right to subpoena an evaluator to testify at their hearing regarding the findings of the parenting plan evaluation and the report and recommendation. After the hearing, it is the judge who will make the final decision on these matters.
82 Ionia Ave. NW
PO Box 351
Grand Rapids, MI 49501-0351
Monday - Friday
8:00am - 4:30pm
Daniel J. Fojtik
Director, Friend of the Court