MAY 14TH, 2020
The Michigan Office of Child Support has received and processed the first batch of Federal Stimulus Payments on Monday, May 11. A second batch will be processed within the next week. Please visit www.michigan.gov/micase for payment information. You may also call our office at (269) 983-7111 ext. 8575 if you have questions about your specific case between 8:30 and 1:00 Monday-Friday.
MAY 4TH, 2020
The Berrien County Friend of the Court has resumed hearings on a remote basis only beginning May 4th. While the Courthouse is not open to the public, parties are able to participate in hearings via Zoom or telephone. You may be contacted by a Friend of the Court Investigator to appear via Zoom/phone or you may contact the Friend of the Court at (269) 983-7111 ext. 8575 to report your ability to appear via Zoom/phone if you have a hearing scheduled.
April 20th, 2020
Federal Stimulus Payment
The Michigan Office of Child Support has provided the following information regarding stimulus payments along with some frequently asked questions about payments being received:
View the full MDHHS Press Release
APRIL 7TH, 2020
EXPEDITED SUPPORT REVIEW
The Friend of the Court office is receiving many questions and inquiries from payers and recipients of child support related to their personal case payment obligations. Here is what you can do to help us if you believe your child support needs to be reviewed due to a change in circumstance:
- If your employment situation has been negatively impacted due to the COVID-19 situation, you are encouraged to contact us as soon as possible.
- To assist us and make it most efficient for you, we are asking for information providing us with minimal employment related data. The Expedited Support Review Form for submitting this information can be accessed on the FOC website at www.berriencounty.org/707/friend-of-the-court. You can fill out the form on-line and immediately submit the document back to the FOC.
- While we do not know time frames for a review to be completed, returning this information as soon as possible will get the process started.
- Please understand the FOC office is currently operating with a minimal staff on site from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Monday through Friday to take phone calls and process mail. We are returning phone calls the next business day if a voice mail is received after the stated hours.
- We are operating under the MI Supreme Court Order limiting services to essential functions only. The office is NOT currently open to the public.
- Based on the anticipation of a significant number of families being negatively impacted by the fallout from the COVID-19 situation, the result is an unknown volume of work for FOC employees when staffing returns to normal levels.
We appreciate your patience and understanding as we work through this unfortunate situation.
Thomas G. Watson
Berrien County FOC Director
View the Printable PDF Version of this notice.
FAQS ABOUT CUSTODY AND PARENTING TIME DURING THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a contagious respiratory disease that is easily spread from person to person and can result in serious illness.
Governor Whitmer declared a state of emergency and issued Executive Order 2020-21 that requires Michigan residents to shelter in place and restrict travel from March 24 through April 13, 2020. The state of emergency may last longer.
The resulting changes to daily activity raise new questions about how custody and parenting time orders work during this public health pandemic. The following are general answers to common questions parents may have in determining what to do regarding custody and parenting time.
Q1. Do I have to follow my parenting time orderduring the COVID-19 outbreak?
A. Yes. Parents should follow their custody and
parenting time court order during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Executive Order allows parents and children to travel when complying with a court order. If possible, parents should carry copies of their court orders when travelling for parenting time.
It is understandable for parents to be concerned about their child’s safety. However, the outbreak alone should not be an excuse for denying parenting time. Parents should try to set aside personal differences, try to agree on what is best for all involved including following CDC guidelines on protecting family from COVID-19 illness, and try to maintain a positive relationship with the child. If following the parenting time order presents a considerable risk for someone, parents should work cooperatively to find an alternative solution that will allow parenting time to be exercised. If someone in either household (custodial or non-custodial) has been exposed to the virus or has a vulnerable person living with them, it is important that parents try to make alternative arrangements to safeguard everyone from unnecessary risk.
Q2. What are some parenting time alternatives that can be used?
A. When it is necessary to safeguard someone’s well-being or to avoid exposing the child to the virus, parents may agree that the child should stay in one household until the state of emergency passes. In addition to promoting a strong relationship between the child and each parent, parenting time is an opportunity for parents to bring stability and reassurance to their child during the unusual situation caused by the state of emergency. When in-person parenting time presents a risk to someone, parents may agree to any of the following options:
Virtual parenting time: If the parties agree the child should not be in the home of one of the parents, the other parent
s can spend time interacting with a child virtually (using apps such as FaceTime, Duo, Facebook Messenger, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, etc.) or talking over the telephone. Shorter, frequent virtual visits encouraged by both parents may help reassure the child during these unusual events.
Make-up parenting time: Once the emergency ends and parenting time resumes, the child can spend extra time with the parent the child missed time with. The added time should be made-up as agreed to by the parents or as set by the friend of the court (FOC) or court.
Skipping parenting time: A parent who has parenting time scheduled may choose not to exercise parenting time to avoid exposing someone to the virus.
Parents should record any temporary agreements in writing (paper, e-mail, text message, or other preserved form).
Q3. What if I cannot reach an agreement with the other parent, and decide not to allow parenting time in violation of the court order?
A. You must try to get your order changed before you violate it. Because court operations are limited during the state of emergency, getting a hearing quickly might be difficult. Emergency motions to protect health and safety are being held. If possible, you should seek legal advice from an attorney to help decide what you should do.
The court order remains in effect; so parents will need to make sure that they have more than a general fear or suspicion of risk when the other parent does not agree there is more risk in one home than the other. Violating the order without an agreement is serious.
If you violate the order and the other parent files a written complaint with the FOC it will send a notice and apply one of several remedies. The office may apply a make-up parenting time schedule, schedule a joint-meeting or mediation, or schedule a hearing requiring you to show cause for violating the order (commonly referred to as a “show cause hearing”). The other parent may also schedule a show cause hearing without FOC involvement.
If a show cause hearing is scheduled, you will be required to explain to the court why you violated the order. Violations without a good cause are a serious matter, and the court could impose financial penalties as well as jail time, depending on the severity of the violation. In determining whether you had a good reason to violate the order, the court may want to know exactly why you took the actions you
did, what attempts you made to reach an alternative agreement, and other actions you took (including filing an emergency motion with the court) to safeguard the child in a manner that would allow parenting time to occur.
Q4. Will there be make-up parenting time later for time missed during the COVID-19 outbreak?
A. Parents may agree to make-up parenting time without needing to involve the FOC or the court.
When an FOC office receives a written complaint because a parent was denied time with a child, the office is required to enforce the court order. Make-up parenting time is one option that the FOC may apply if it appears that the order was violated.
Q5. What if the public place for our parenting time exchange is closed?
A. The exchange should still occur; however, parents may have to find an alternative public place that is open. Parents may consider using a place that provides essential services that is open near their normal location, such as a grocery store or gas station.
Q6. What if I make a temporary parenting time agreement with the other parent that was followed, and later the other parent complains that I violated the court order?
A. To prevent a misunderstanding, parents should document agreements in writing, whether on paper, through e-mail, text message, or other electronic form that can be preserved by both. If the FOC office receives a complaint, it is required to take steps to enforce the court order if it appears a violation occurred. However, the parent accused of denying parenting time will be given the opportunity to explain what happened to the FOC, and if necessary, to the judge. The written agreement will show that the other parent agreed to the alternative schedule.
Q7. What if my child is in a high-risk category for COVID-19, and I am concerned about exposure during parenting time?
A. Parents must discuss the child’s health concerns and make decisions to keep the child safe. Each parent must take the necessary precautions to assure the child’s safety. This should include limiting the child’s exposure during parenting time to individuals who could be contagious or ill, and anyone who may have been in contact with someone who may be contagious. If a parent believes such precautions include violation of the court’s parenting time order, he/she should reach an agreement with the other parent, seek advice from a lawyer, or file an emergency motion with the court.
Q8. What if I think the other parent or someone who lives with the other parent might have COVID- 19 or be at risk for exposure to COVID-19?
A. While the court order remains in effect, parents also have a responsibility to safeguard the children. Parents should work cooperatively and make arrangements that allow the child to safely maintain the relationship with each parent. See Q2 about alternatives like virtual and make-up parenting above. Parents should avoid exposing children to anyone who is ill or who may have been in contact with someone who may be contagious.
Q9. Does parenting time continue if a parent or child tests positive for or has been exposed to COVID- 19?
A. Each parent must do their part to keep their child safe and healthy, as well as reduce the spread of COVID-19. Following guidance from the CDC, anyone who is sick with or has been exposed to
COVID-19 must limit contact with other people and should stay away from others in the home as much as possible.
Q10. Will I still have supervised parenting time during the COVID-19 outbreak?
A. Supervised parenting time services provided by an agency under contract with the FOC office have likely suspended in-person services during the state of emergency. Some agencies may provide video or teleconference visitations. If you have a court order for supervised parenting time by an agency, you should contact that agency to confirm the level of services currently provided.
If your parenting time is supervised by a family member or friend who is still able to supervise, it can continue if safely possible. If your supervisor is unable to supervise, try to reach an agreement with the other parent for a different person to supervise. If you are denied parenting time due to the lack of a supervisor, keep track of the time the child loses with you so you can ask for the appropriate amount of make-up time after the state of emergency is over.
Q11. Does my child have to go on parenting time over spring break even though school is cancelled?
A. Parenting time should continue on the dates originally scheduled on the school calendar, as if schools had continued to operate. The information in the other FAQs applies equally to spring break parenting time, and parents are encouraged to work together to find solutions to safeguard health while preserving parenting time and promoting the child’s relationship with both parents, which may include alternative parenting time or travel arrangements. Parents may find it necessary to avoid public transportation, alter their plans, and drive to a central location for an exchange.
Q12. Do I have to send my child on a plane to parenting time?
A. Leaving the state is currently allowed. Parents will have to evaluate their family’s specific circumstances and act in the best interest of the child to maintain the relationship with both parents. The Executive Order allows travel to transport children required by court order. It also allows travel between Michigan and out of state residences. If parents are concerned about their child traveling during the COVID-19 outbreak, especially where mass transit makes social distancing difficult, they may want to make alternative parenting time arrangements. One option may be for each parent to drive to a central place to make the parenting time exchange. See Q2, above, for other alternatives.
Q13. If I purchased a plane or other ticket for my child, and the other parent doesn’t send my child, will the other parent have to reimburse me?
A. Some airlines are giving refunds, credits, or allowing cancellation of travel plans. After checking with the airline, parents should discuss travel expense reimbursement if parenting time cannot occur because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
MARCH 26TH, 2020
Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Friend of the Court will be staffed to take your calls between the hours of 8:30 AM and 1:00 PM each day while the Berrien County Trial Court State of Emergency Essential Operations Plan is in effect. If you call after 1:00 PM, please leave a message and someone will return your call within one business day.
As a reminder, you may access your case information by calling the Interactive Voice Response line at 1-877-543-2660 or by going online to micase.state.mi.us.
For specific information about closures at the Berrien County Courthouse, please go to BerrienCounty.org or check the Berrien County Trial Court Facebook page for up to date information regarding our hours of operation.
MARCH 23RD, 2020
The FOC office has had a number of phone calls asking about transportation of minor children for purposes of court ordered parenting time during the covid-19 outbreak. Michigan Governor Whitmer, in her Executive Order 2020-21, specifically refers to this question as an allowable transportation related issue. Specifically, under the category of exceptions to the order, individuals may leave their home or place of residence and travel as necessary “as required by law enforcement or a court order, including the transportation of children pursuant to a custody agreement” (section 7(b)(4)). Berrien County will continue to enforce all current parenting time provisions contained in domestic relations court orders.
MARCH 20TH, 2020
Effective March 20, 2020, the Berrien County Trial Court is operating under a State of Emergency Essential Operation Plan. While there is much uncertainty in our world right now, we want to let you know how the Friend of the Court office is available to serve you.
Under guidance from the Michigan Supreme Court, we are providing limited services for essential functions only. These include:
Arraigning individuals on bench warrants pursuant to MCR 3.221(B)
Assuring that child support orders are recorded in the Michigan Child Support Enforcement System (MICSES) so that payments can be forwarded to families
Implementing income withholding notices so ordered support payments can be deducted and paid automatically
Assisting the Court with emergency motions as requested
Each of our main Divisions - Accounting, Enforcement, Domestic Investigator and Review and Modification, have staff members available to take your calls and handle incoming correspondence. Additionally, staff are available to provide scheduling and appropriate notice of hearings, as required.
An important note—all Friend of the Court hearings previously scheduled through May 4, 2020, have been adjourned. You will receive written notice in the mail of your amended hearing date and time as these matters are rescheduled.
We certainly understand that our limited operations may affect response times. We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your understanding and patience. It is important to us to provide an on-going level of service to the public and also to care for the health and safety of our staff. We are working diligently to balance these two important priorities.
As always, you can find financial information about your case via the Interactive Voice Response line (877) 543-2660 or you may visit micase.state.mi.us.
MARCH 16TH, 2020
Michigan Supreme Court News Release:
"FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 16, 2020
Statement from the Michigan Supreme Court on Matters Concerning
With schools closed and courthouses limiting operations to reduce exposure to COVID-19, parents who live apart might be confused about changing family situations and their court orders.
Things to Remember
The Supreme Court wants to remind parents that all court orders for a child’s custody, parenting time and support are still in force. Only a new court order can change that. Parents should continue to follow their court order.
If future government decisions restrict travel or, if a child’s safety is an issue, parents should work together to keep the child’s access to both parents as close to the normal arrangement as possible. Remember that children might also be nervous about current events and need reassurance from parents. If it is necessary to share parental responsibilities in ways different than the court order provides, parents should cooperate with each other to further the child’s best interests. If parents are not able to agree between themselves how to do this, their court order continues to control what they should do.
Child support payment processing is expected to continue. However, if a person changes jobs or a court order changes, there may be a delay in updating automatic payment withholding from a paycheck. If a parent has child support obligations and money is not automatically withheld from his or her pay, the parent should be sure to make the payment through the State Disbursement Unit. Parents can also make payments through PayNearMe at CVS Pharmacy, 7-Eleven, Family Dollar, and Casey’s General Store.
Parents are encouraged to sign up for MiChildSupport to see their child support case online. To sign up, click here."