Child Custody IAQ: Opting Out of the Friend of the Court Process
Today’s Infrequently Asked Question is straightforward: “Do I have to go through all of the rigmarole with the Friend of the Court?” The answer, some of you may be relieved to hear, is “No,” but of course in the legal world, it’s never that simple.
Why Opt Out of the Friend of the Court’s Services?
The Friend of the Court (FoC) is — as all legal groups that get involved with custody cases are — somewhat controversial. There’s actually an old Facebook page called StopFriendOfTheCourt that calls the FoC “a true enemy of the family” that “needs to be stopped.” Of course, every time the FoC makes a strong custody recommendation and a judge follows it, they’re going to upset someone, so things like the Facebook page aren’t terribly surprising.
The other side of the coin is that the FoC has some genuine issues. There’s not a lot of oversight, meaning that sometimes corruption can rear its ugly head, and accusations of gender bias are common. Accountability is low, even given the grievance process. Then there’s the simple fact that FoC officers are generally just as overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated as a typical public defender (which is to say, a lot of each)! It can be difficult for them to get active in a case where they’re clearly unappreciated when they have such low motivation to do so — but if you’re one of the people they’re not-terribly-motivated for, they can seem like more of a burden than a ‘Friend.’
Opting Out: Before Everything Starts
All that said, the Friend of the Court is almost always useful. There are a lot of services the FoC provides, and the State would almost always rather see the FoC stay involved in a custody case. That’s why it’s not a sure thing to opt out under any circumstances — but it’s always easier to opt out at the beginning of a divorce case than midway through. If you try to opt out before a case gets underway, all you have to do is fill out Form FC 101 and submit it. The court must order the FoC to stay out of the case unless:
- One of the parties to the divorce has applied for (or recently received) public assistance,
- One of the parties to the divorce requested that the FoC open and maintain a case,
- There is evidence that the parties to the divorce have significantly uneven bargaining positions (for example, in a domestic abuse situation) and that withholding FoC services would violate the best interests of the child,
Opting Out: During the Proceedings
If you fill out Form FC 101 after the Friend of the Court has opened a case relevant to your divorce, the court must order the FoC to close its case unless:
- One of the parties to the divorce objects to the motion,
- One of the parties to the divorce receives public assistance,
- One of the parties to the divorce used to receive public assistance and owes the government money because of a debt caused by that assistance,
- One of the parties to the divorce owes child support or violated a custody or parenting time order within the previous 12 months, or
- One of the parties to the divorce reopened a case with the FoC within the previous 12 months.
In general, as long as you’re not on public assistance or in a compromising position relative to the family court, you can opt out of the Friend of the Court’s participation in your case. Whether or not that’s a good idea is another question, but it certainly can be done.
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