One less barrier

It is no secret that the Friend of the Court can be intimidating to deal with, especially for fathers. More often than not, fathers feel as though they are fighting a losing battle not only with their children’s other parent, but also with the Friend of the Court. It is unfortunate that this is historically how fathers have felt when, in reality, fathers should feel empowered and supported by the Friend of the Court so that their children have the support and bond they need with both parents.

Being intimidating or difficult to deal with is not the intention of the Cass County Friend of the Court. Our mission is: “Serving and empowering families to make children’s lives better.” Families — not just mothers, not just fathers, families. We are here to work with both parties to ensure the best opportunities and outcomes for the family.

A recent training offered by the Michigan Judicial Institute that was called “Fathers on Child Support: I Matter Too” discussed how fathers perceive the Friend of the Court and how those fathers may feel as though they are fighting a losing battle. This training involved a panel of four fathers sharing their experiences and honest stories about their involvement with the Friend of the Court — the good, bad and downright ugly.

After listening to this panel of fathers share these honest experiences, I had a thought, “Why can’t the Friend of the Court strive to be One Less Barrier for families?”

In the Cass County Friend of the Court, we try to be as intentional as possible when working with families. We know what families involved in the court system may be experiencing a variety of emotional and financial challenges, but we will never be able to feel a party’s frustration from their point of view in its entirety. After all, we are dealing with their children and their finances – two very personal things. We want to help and will do what we are able to do to equally help both parties on a case.

Having both parents involved and active in a child’s life, not only financially, is crucial for positive family outcomes. Sure, the Friend of the Court has historically focused on child support, the payments, enforcement and making sure money gets into the hands of the custodial parent. This is to ensure that children are financially supported when their parents are not in the same home.

After participating in this training, I do not think this needs to be a hard and fast priority. We can evolve as an office, as a system, as a community to do better. I believe that Cass County Friend of the Court is at a good place when it comes to providing intentional and engaging assistance to both parties.

We don’t know what we don’t know. If we aren’t aware of barriers the families we serve are facing, we are unable to offer appropriate options and resources. Of course, there are times that our hands are truly tied by policies or laws. For example, the Friend of the Court cannot give legal advice. To clientele, this may feel as though we aren’t being helpful or that we are not listening to the challenges they are experiencing. We can, however, provide available resources we are aware of even if we can’t answer legal questions.

The Cass County Friend of the Court is aware of the importance for both parents to be involved with their children, and that their experiences with our office can significantly impact parental involvement. We do not want to make what can be difficult situations any harder on families and children in our community. The more needs we are made aware of, the more resources we can provide as we commit to being “One Less Barrier.”

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.

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