A de novo hearing is a hearing “from the beginning” and in a Michigan divorce or custody case applies to Friend of the Court hearings and recommendations. The Friend of the Court assists judges in trying to resolve contested issues involving custody, parenting time, support in domestic relations matters. However, Friend of the Court referees are not elected officials and therefore can only make recommendations to a judge and cannot make a final ruling on an issue.
After the Friend of the Court makes a recommendation, either party may request a de novo hearing or a hearing “from the beginning” with the trial court judge. This right is codified in Michigan Compiled Laws section 552.507(4) which provides:
(4) The court shall hold a de novo hearing on any matter that has been the subject of a referee hearing, upon the written request of either party or upon motion of the court. The request of a party shall be made within 21 days after the recommendation of the referee is made available to that party.MCL 522.507(4)
Simply put, if a party disagrees with a recommendation of the Friend of the Court, he/she can request a new hearing in front of the trial court judge to decide the issue. Michigan Court Rule 3.215(F)(1) requires that the de novo hearing must be held within 21 days after the written objection is filed, unless time is extended for good cause.
Even though a Friend of the Court referee may look, dress and act like a judge, they are not. Rather, Friend of the Court referees assist the trial court in making recommendations which will become a final order unless a party requests a de novo hearing.
The Friend of the Court is governed by the Friend of the Court Act (See: MCL 552.501 and MCL 552.601). Generally, one Friend of the Court office serves each county (some smaller counties share). The Friend of the Court is also governed by Court rule. Specifically, Michigan Court Rule 3.203 authorizes the Friend of the Court to serve notice of court documents in domestic relations cases. Michigan Court Rule 3.207, requires the Friend of the Court to attempt to resolve certain disputes in divorce and custody cases. Michigan Court Rule 3.208 authorizes the Friend of the Court to initiate enforcement proceedings for support, parenting time or custody.
It is also important to understand that a court can (and typically does) give deference to a Friend of the Court Recommendation, therefore, preparation is key (even if you intend on requesting a de novo hearing) before every hearing, including those in front of the Friend of the Court.
To recap, the Friend of the Court is limited to making recommendations for the trial court to review. However, if no objections (and request for a De Novo hearing) of a Friend of the Court recommendations are made, the Friend of the Court Recommendation will become the final Order of the Court.
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