In most American states, child support is handled by a state agency charged with collecting and disbursing child support payments. The name of that agency varies from state by state: in some places, it’s called the “Office of Child Support Services” or the “Department of Child Support Services.” Where I live, it’s called “Friend of the Court.”
Friend of the Court—that really does say it all. Unfortunately, it took a few years before I realized that it was nobody’s friend but the court’s, and when it finally became clear that it wasn’t my friend, or my children’s friend, or my ex-husband’s friend, my ex-husband and I decided to legally withdraw from its “services.” And we encourage most others to do the same.
What is Friend of the Court? Here’s what the law where I live says:
FRIEND OF THE COURT ACT (EXCERPT)
Act 294 of 1982552.501 Short title; purposes and construction of act.
(1) This act shall be known and may be cited as the “friend of the court act”.
(2) The purposes of this act are to enumerate and describe the powers and duties of the friend of the court and the office of the friend of the court; to ensure that procedures adopted by the friend of the court will protect the best interests of children in domestic relations matters; to encourage and assist parties voluntarily to resolve contested domestic relations matters by agreement; to compel the enforcement of parenting time and custody orders; and to compel the enforcement of support orders, ensuring that persons legally responsible for the care and support of children assume their legal obligations and reducing the financial cost to this state of providing public assistance funds for the care of children. This act shall be construed to promote the enumerated purposes and to facilitate the resolution of domestic relations matters [emphasis mine].
See that sentence I put in bold? Why construed? Why not simply: This act shall promote the enumerated purposes and facilitate the resolution of domestic relations matters?
I’ll tell you why. Because this law, like most laws these days, is written by flim-flam artists whose main goal is to trick the unwashed masses into believing that they give two shits about us. They don’t. This law and other laws like it are NOT about “the best interests of the child™” as they tell us. This is about M-O-N-E-Y. They don’t give a DAMN about parenting time enforcement or anything else that is in the interests of the child except collecting money.
Sure, they will say that if you withhold time from the other parent you could, as in maybe, be jailed. And it happens—sometimes. Usually they just tell Mom to be a good girl and let Dad see the kids, and if she doesn’t, oh, well, they wag their finger at her again and tell her not to be so mean.
What happens to Dad if he loses his job and can’t pay support? Do you really think they care about the children not getting the support? Hell no, they care about not getting their “fees” and any other money they determined that Dad owes the state. That’s why Dad goes to jail and Mom can play around with Dad’s parenting time pretty much at will.
Here’s the real deal: they collect a percentage of the child support for themselves, to pay their salaries. In fact, in the United States, in most places, the only courts that actually run at a profit are, you guessed it, the family courts because they skim a percentage of all child support and spousal support/alimony that they collect. What’s worse is, in the United States, the federal government matches the dollars they collect, which gives them incentive to collect as much as they can. And so even if there are nice people working there, and I guess there may be a few, the whole system is a racket set up to pay the people who work there.
My name is Rosemary Ribner. I married Dean Esmay 19 years ago, and we were married for 12 years. We had two sons before our marriage fell apart and we divorced. This is not going to be an indictment of my ex-; in fact, I support the work he does at A Voice for Men. Why wouldn’t I? I have sons, for God’s sake, and a husband I love and an ex-husband who is now a friend. I’m not going to say anything about why we are no longer married, but I am going to say that like most couples who divorce, we went through a very ugly period of fighting about everything. Our hate and anger for each other blinded us to all else, including the fact that our sons needed us to get along. We couldn’t, in the beginning, because our emotions were out of control. So, of course, the family court and their “friends” were going to help us navigate the process. They were going to put the needs of our children where they belonged, and at the time, it seemed like a nice shiny beacon of hope.
I was naive.
I bought that loaded pile of absolute bullshit because at the time I didn’t know anyone who had gone through a divorce with children, and neither did anyone in my family. I had nobody to ask advice from except my attorney, and you know that attorneys are interested first and foremost about money, and one of the easiest ways for them to do that is to stoke the fires of conflict. I asked for and received primary custody of our two sons. Our oldest was 10 and our youngest was 3 and had just been diagnosed as autistic. I was initially grateful for the Friend of the Court (FOC)’s involvement. They made sure that despite our inability to be civil, the children received regular financial support and that Dean had scheduled parenting time. But for a while after our divorce was final, we continued to hate each other. It was hurting our kids and it was making us both look unstable and fight over stupid shit, which they did nothing to help with. We went through a brief period of using the court’s “Friend” as a weapon. Then slowly, as we watched our oldest son deteriorate emotionally, we both decided it was time to love our sons more than we hated each other.
Soon we remembered that we were once friends and we worked on getting back to that place. And we noticed that the government was taking significantly more money than they should be just so they could play middleman, and not doing anything else for us except getting between us when we wanted to change arrangements.
When you’re in battle mode, there is no way that you’re able to realize that these government agencies can actually make things worse by getting between you. But when you’re friends, or at least doing your best to remember that you once cared about each other and are trying to get back to that place, you can discuss things. One thing we discussed was the fact that the state was playing fast and loose with their deduction of my ex-husband’s check and the disbursement of those funds to me. When my check came up short, they had no explanation, and frequently, my ex- had none either because he could show me his pay stubs and show me how the amount deducted wasn’t what I was getting. I’d call to get explanations and wait days for answers or get none at all.
It became crystal clear that these government “services” cared more about the state getting paid than about our sons getting their father’s financial support. Nor did they care if they got his emotional support. After a few months of playing the “here’s what they took/here’s what I got” game, Dean asked me if I’d be willing to withdraw from FOC and just allow him to pay me directly. I said yes. We found the laws and the paperwork we needed and, without even paying a lawyer, went to the judge together and said, “Let us out.” And after making us talk to some bureaucrats, the judge agreed: the court is now out of our lives. Whether it comes to finances or the kids, when one of us has a problem we talk to the other and we work it out.
We had already long ago stopped following the court-ordered parenting time or running to them to get permission or make note of changes. Dean calls and stops over daily to see his boys. The boys go with Dad whenever they want, and while it isn’t 50/50, it works for us. We live two minutes away. I’m friends with Dean and his wife, and Dean is friends with both me and my husband, John Ribner. It simply made sense to me that we stop allowing the state to tell us how to support our children, especially since they’ve never put the needs of our boys ahead of their own self-interest. If we want to change days or arrangements, we don’t need to file any paperwork to make it official.
It’s like I said in the beginning: the Friend of the Court is exactly that—not my friend, not the kids’ friend, not my ex’s friend, but the court’s friend. And if they call it something else where you live, it still doesn’t matter: these agencies are not your friend and never have been and never will be.
They don’t care about what’s best for children of divorce; their only true concern is their own financial interests.
If you can possibly get the courts and these state agencies out of your personal affairs, do it. Unless you have no other option—and really, while I’m sure there are a few cases where it’s the only option, I think we all know in most cases it’s not.
I know divorce sucks, I know fighting over the kids and finances with someone you’re no longer living with sucks. It seems impossible to get along with that ex you came to hate, but if you made a baby or babies with that ex- of yours, it’s time to be an adult and realize it’s not about you, it’s about those kids. Part of being an adult means taking care of your children, loving and protecting them from the shitty things this world has to offer, putting their needs above your own—and that means making sure that they have BOTH of their parents’ love and time and not just money. I don’t care how much you hate your ex-husband or ex-wife. It’s not about you anymore, it’s about your kids. You both chose to get married, you both chose to have children. The only people who had NO CHOICE are your children, so grow up and act like the adults you purport to be. It works if you work it. In most cases, you can find a way to get along and work things out between you as adults, just so long as you let go of resentment and remember that it’s not about you. LOVE YOUR CHILDREN MORE THAN YOU HATE EACH OTHER.
Then maybe even the hate will go away.