MATHEWS: FOC orientation program goes virtual

Going through a custody and parenting time dispute — whether in a divorce proceeding, custody, support or paternity case — can be overwhelming at times. Not only do parties have to navigate the court system and keep track of the paperwork they receive related to the case from the court or the other party, but they also receive information from the Friend of the Court office.

For most parents, their court case is the first time they have ever heard of the Friend of the Court office.  Many don’t know that the FOC has a role at all in their case until they receive child support related paperwork from the FOC.

At the same time that parents are trying to navigate the court system and learn about the FOC’s role in their case, they have to figure out the best way to co-parent with the other parent during a time when they may not be getting along.

Because of all the things parents go through at the start of a case involving minor children, the Cass County Friend of the Court started the “FOC Orientation and S.M.I.L.E. Program” in October 2019 for all parents with minor children involved in divorce, custody, support, or paternity cases.

The FOC Orientation Program was designed to provide parents with an opportunity to learn about services offered by the Friend of the Court as well as to participate in the Start Making It Livable For Everyone program.  S.M.I.L.E. — Start Making It Livable for Everyone — is an educational program for separating or divorcing parents with children under the age of 18 that was created by the Oakland County Friend of the Court. The program provides information to help parents better understand the effects of divorce. Although the S.M.I.L.E. program was developed with divorcing parents in mind, it provides valuable information that is helpful in assisting all parents in understanding the impact that family separation has on children.

By order of Chief Judge Susan L. Dobrich, the FOC Orientation Program became mandatory for all parents with minor children involved in a divorce, custody, support or paternity case effective Nov. 1, 2019. Since then, approximately 66 parents have successfully completed the FOC Orientation and S.M.I.L.E Program. 

The FOC Orientation and S.M.I.L.E. program was previously hosted on Monday mornings in the Law & Courts Building and was run by FOC staff members. Due to COVID-19, the Cass County FOC recently changed the program to a virtual program to allow parents to participate from home.  Starting June 15, all parents with minor children with a divorce, custody, support or paternity case who are required to participate in the FOC Orientation and S.M.I.L.E. program received an order with instructions to provide their email address to the Cass County FOC. Once the FOC receives the parent’s email address, a link is sent to the parent that allows them to access the online version of the FOC Orientation and S.M.I.L.E. Program.

During the online program, parents are provided information about the Friend of the Court from Cass County FOC Director Carol Montavon Bealor. They get to watch the S.M.I.L.E. video and are shown different online resources that are available to them to help them navigate the court process as well as to learn more about the FOC. At the end of the online program, parents are provided instructions regarding specific information to email back to the FOC to receive credit for participating in the program. Certificates of completion are mailed to mailed to participants who would like a copy for their own records

While FOC staff enjoyed getting to meet parents in person to talk to them about the FOC and show them the S.M.I.L.E. video, we are grateful to the Oakland County Friend of the Court for allowing us to show the S.M.I.L.E. program in a virtual format and for the ability to use technology to continue to provide information to parents about the FOC.

If you have questions about the FOC that you think would be helpful to address in future columns, please send them to the FOC email address:  foc@cassco.org.

Sarah Mathews is the deputy Friend of the Court Cass County Friend of the Court.

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