The Problem with Conciliation Conferences in Cases Involving Minor Children

Posted on 12/7/2016 by SuperUser Account in Child Custody Child Support Parenting Time
The Problem with Conciliation Conferences in Cases Involving Minor Children

The Friend of the Court is authorized to hold conciliation conferences in cases involving minor children. The purpose of the conciliation conference is to gather information about the parents’ relationship with the children, availability to provide care for the children, child care, expenses, and income to be used for child support calculations.

It is relatively rare for the the Friend of the Court to interview other witnesses as part of the conciliation conference process. The purpose of the process is to gain enough information to write a report and recommended order. The problem with conciliation conferences is what the Friend of the Court does with the information it receives, after it prepares a report and recommended order.

Michigan law provides that the Friend of the Court must submit the proposed order to the parties and their attorneys for their review PRIOR to submitting it to the judge. There are some Friends of the Court in the state of Michigan who are bypassing the submission to the parties and attorneys and simply sending the recommended order to the judge for the judge’s signature, and without the input of the parties or their attorneys. It is routine for the judge to simply sign that order, because the judge has no basis on which not to sign it, since the parties and attorneys have not had an opportunity for input. The order signed by the judge will read that it is up to the parties and their attorneys to file an objection to the entered order and schedule the matter for a court appearance. However, after the judge has signed the order, and before any court appearance on an objection, the order is in place and must be followed, regardless of fairness of the order recommended by the Friend of the Court and signed by the judge. From this process it becomes apparent that many Friends of the Court are actually violating Michigan law in having the order entered without input or approval. In fact, it's my understanding that this issue is being addressed statewide as of the writing of this blog.

There is an additional problem with conciliation conferences, and that is that in some jurisdictions the Friend of the Court will ask the parties to approve an order while they are at the Friend of the Court office, and after a meeting with the parties. In the vast majority of cases this is often done without any communication or consultation between the parties and their attorneys. Parties hire attorneys for their advice under these circumstances, advice which cannot be given as part of the conciliation conference and signing, which conference is usually not attended by the attorneys. This brings up the question of whether an attorney should plan on attending a conciliation conference.

As a result of several unfortunate situations as above described, and despite the fact that the Friend of the Court does not favor having attorneys present during the conciliation conference process, it has become my recommendation that I attend all conciliation conferences and/or to be available to advise the client and protect the client’s rights. This advice comes despite the fact that the Friend of the Court does not favor having attorneys present (even though the client has the right to have their attorney present) and despite the fact that this is an added cost of the litigation. However, this added cost is critical to the outcome of the case.

As a result of all of the above, it is important for the client to discuss this issue with their attorney prior to the conciliation conference, and to make a decision about whether the attorney will be present. Under no circumstances should a party sign any legal document during the pendency of their case without prior consultation with their counsel. However, that is not enough, as outlined above, since clients are not given the opportunity for input in many conciliation conference orders, which orders are prepared and entered after the clients have left the offices of the Friend of the Court. Thus, the only way for the parties to have input is direct input by their attorneys at the time of the conciliation conference, which input can hopefully prevent the entry of an improper order. Experienced counsel can best advise the client what choices need to be made under the circumstances described above.