Friday, September 17, 2010

The Costly Lesson of Full Disclosure to Friend of the Court

by Wendy Alton

In Michigan, child support is modifiable upon change of circumstances, and in order to modify the amount of child support, you must file a motion/request with Friend of the Court. A referee in Friend of the Court then reviews each parent’s income, health care costs, child care costs, and parenting time and makes a recommendation based upon those facts. Once a recommendation is made, each parent has an opportunity to object to the recommendation, and if there is an objection filed, the matter goes to the Judge for a formal hearing.

So what happens if during the entire process one of the parents is less than forthcoming with their income information? What happens if one parent deliberately misstates their income?

The Court of Appeals recently discussed this exact situation in Keinz v Keinz, unpublished opinion per curiam of the Court of Appeals, issued September 16, 2010 (Docket No. 292781).

In Keinz v Keinz, a modification request was filed by the mother 3 years after the divorce was final. At the referee hearing, the father not only stated that his gross annual income was $41k, he produced a letter from his employer indicating the same thing. The referee made a recommendation, and the mother objected to that recommendation. Eventually a full evidentiary hearing was held by the Judge, at which time it was discovered that the father actually earned $81k annually, double the income he asserted at the referee hearing.

The father’s justification was that he was working overtime, but that due to his health, he didn’t expect to work any more overtime. However, it was discovered that at the time that he asserted that he would only earn $41k annually, he had already earned $40k and only half the year was over.

The mother asked the Court to make the father pay for her attorney fees stating that his position/defense was frivolous, which means that the father asserted a position that he knew was not true. While the trial court initially denied the mother’s request for attorney fees, the Court of Appeals determined that the father deliberately deceived the referee by offering evidence that he knew was not true. The Court of Appeals determined that the father’s position in the child support hearings was truly frivolous and because the mother ultimately prevailed with a higher child support amount (albeit after numerous court hearings), the father was responsible for paying the mother’s attorney fees.

The cost for deliberately deceiving Friend of the Court: paying for two attorneys.

If you are interested in learning more about divorce or family law, please call Wendy Alton at 248-380-9976 or email her at

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