Friend of the Court

Michael R. Kinsella J.D, Director

Bay County Court Facility
1230 Washington Avenue, Suite 660
Voice: (989) 895-4295

Custody/Parenting Time Evaluators

 *****Please be advised that our evaluators do not accept phone calls or walk-ins. Your request must be submitted in writing to them. Please see our Contact page for information on ways to submit your request in writing.

  • Melissa Wareham, J.D. Custody Review; and parenting time concerns for cases in which the father's last name begins with P-Z
  • David Owens, M.S. - Post-Judgment Custody Matters; parenting time concerns for cases in which the father's last name begins with H-O


  • Kara Rohn, MA, LPC - Pre-Judgment Custody Matters; and parenting time concerns for cases in which the father's last name begins with A-G


  • Nichole Noonan - Secretary to the family evaluators and to the Assistant Friend of the Court

This informtation below contains information about questions commonly asked to the FOC:
• Types of Custody Arrangements,
• Contested Custody,
• Custody Factors,
• Common Custody Questions

Types of Custody Arrangements 

A number of custody arrangements are possible. The most common are:

•Joint Legal Custody. The custody order directs that parents reach mutual decisions regarding major issues affecting their children. This decision-making process includes, but is not limited to: major medical decisions, educational decisions, and religious upbringing, if any. This requires parents to communicate and cooperate with one another.

•Sole Legal Custody.The custody order directs that one parent makes the major medical decisions, educational decisions, and religious upbringing for the children, without being required to consult the other parent.

•Joint Physical Custody. The custody order directs that children live with one parent part of the time and the other parent part of the time. This time does not have to be equal. The parent who has care of the children at any given time is responsible for routine decisions regarding the children. 

•Primary (Sole) Physical Custody. The custody order directs that that the children live primarily with one parent. That parent is responsible for making major decisions regarding the children

Contested Custody 

Custody is contested when more than one party wants to be the custodial parent or custodian of the children. In disputes between parties in Bay County cases, the matter is referred for mediation and possible settlement.  In most cases, a settlement is reached through mediation. However, if no agreement is reached, the matter will be reviewed by the Court.

Custody Factors.

In deciding the custodial arrangements, the court must consider all of the statutory custody factors.  To review these factors, use this link:  Michigan Child Custody Act. At the request of either parent, the Court will consider an award of joint custody. The Court may consider joint legal and/or physical custody even if it is not requested. 

Custody Questions and Answers 

Q. If there is no court order for custody, do both parents have equal rights to their child(ren)?

A. This depends on several factors. If the parents are married, and there is no separation or divorce action filed, then they have interwoven, inseparable custody rights, with no distinguishing factors between parents. If a separation or divorce action has been started in Court, a Petition for a Temporary Order must be filed to get an Order for Custody (as well as parenting time and support).  If the parents were never married, but paternity has been legally determined by acknowledgment or court order and one parent is ordered to pay support, the other parent is assumed to have custody of the minor child even if the order does not specifically award custody. Most recent paternity orders will award custody to one parent.

Q. How do I get an order for custody?

A.  A motion requesting the court to grant you custody of your children must be filed with the court. If both parents agree and sign an agreement (stipulation), that agreement, if approved by the court, may be entered as a custody order.

There are many complicated issues involved in a custody case. If you choose to present yourself without an attorney’s assistance, you still have the same duties, and must follow the same rules, as practicing attorneys. The FOC or the Prosecutor cannot file a petition for custody for you. FOC caseworker and clerical staff are not attorneys, and are not permitted to give you legal advice. Therefore, it is generally best to always have an attorney represent you when seeking to establish or modify custody. 

Q. How do I change an existing order for custody?

A.  A motion a custody order must be filed with the Court, or the parents can sign a written agreement changing custody (stipulation), which if approved by the court, will change custody.General Forms.

Q. After a petition for custody has been filed, and we cannot reach our own agreement, what does the FOC have to do?

A. The matter will be sent to mediation to try to assist you in reaching an agreement. If mediation is unsuccessful, the Circuit Court Referee will conduct a hearing and file a written report and recommendation with the Court, based on the factors listed in the Michigan Child Custody Act.

Q. Do I have the right to receive a copy of the Referee recommendation and report on custody?

A. Before the court takes any action on the Referee’s custody recommendation, each party or their attorney must be provided with to a copy of the report, recommendation and any supporting documents or a summary of the documents prepared or used by the Referee.

Q. What will happen if I have an order for custody and the other parent does not return the child to me as stated in the court order?

A. You have several choices:
a)You can contact the FOC and request that they enforce your order.
   b) You can contact your attorney.
 c) You can contact the Prosecuting Attorney and request that a kidnapping charge be started if you have reason to believe that the other parent intends to keep the child.

Q. Does the FOC have a responsibility to investigate alleged abuse and/or neglect of a child?

A. No. Allegations of abuse or neglect should be reported to the Child Protective Services unit of the local DHS office. You can call them at 855-444-3911.

Q. My child is no longer living with the physical custodial parent. What can I do?

A. The age of your child determines the action you take. Under the age of 17, you should contact Bay County Probate Court if you think truancy, runaway or delinquency charges need to be filed.If the child is 17 or older, or living with you, you must petition the Court to abate/suspend your child support obligation. Until you get a new court order suspending your support, you will be required to pay child support, even if the child is living with you. Suspending child support does not change custody. If you want to change custody and/or have the other parent pay support, you have to petition the Court for those changes in orders as well.