Wayne County Friend of the Court: What's behind the backlog?

DETRIOT (WXYZ) - The 7 Action News investigators are demanding answers for frustrated parents who are fed up with the Wayne County Friend of the Court.

Turns out the numbers released by WCFOC officials Monday verify what experienced observers of the operation have said that the staff has a case load that dwarfs other counties, and that their responsibilities may be at the heart of service that many have told us is unsatisfactory and needs to be corrected.

In the entire state of Michigan, some $9 billion dollars in back child support is due and has not been collected. In Wayne County alone, the number is $5 billion uncollected. The 303,490 cases handled by Wayne County FOC staff make them responsible for 35% of all cases in the state.

The next statistic is truly shocking even to those with years of experience in the system. The WCFOC has only 219 employees compared to well over 700 just a few years ago. Each is responsible for 1,385 cases in a given year. By comparison, in neighboring Oakland and Macomb Counties, each FOC worker is only responsible for 350 to 390 cases.

Family practice attorney Barry Fayne has heard from hundreds of clients during his 40 years friend of the court experience.

"What I hear are people who are frustrated, they're frightened," Fayne says, "because they can't get their problems solved." Their issues may be complicated, but the reason for their frustration boils down to service, or the lack of it, and a clear path as to where to find it. "There is no window where you can go to get help."

Carmen McCray is a Detroit mother who isn't happy with FOC service nor the man who she says hasn't paid her court-ordered support for their 12 year old son. Carmen has struggled with Wayne Counties FOC system for years in an effort to get some $40,000 in back child support from James Gowans, the boys father.

Gowans says he's done what he can before his disability took his job away. How much cash does he think he's given her over the years?

"Well it's been quite a bit," he says. "When I was working I gave her cash but I haven't worked in six years since I developed cancer."

Maryanne Spryszak-Hanna, McCray's lawyer, says the claim of cash payments without proof is an empty statement for FOC officials.

"Many times the man will say I gave her cash and the Friend of the Court will say make sure you get a receipt, because if you don't it doesn't happen as far as we're concerned. "

Since 2007, both Gowans and his son have received Social security disability checks. The child's mother says she hasn't seen any of that money, including the $10,000 first check that was sent to James, in his son's name. Why didn't Gowans give the lump sum check to McCray? "Well, that was mine," he says, "…that was mine for working."

McCray is quick to respond to Gowan's statement. "He never gave me anything. His saying is you might as well cancel Friend of the Court because I'm not paying it," she says of Gowans. "That's his motto and he stuck to it because when he received the money from social security he kept it."

Carmen says the friend of the court has now given Gowan's credit for social security checks she never received, and today, the Wayne Co. friend of the court confirmed it. But so far, the FOC won't talk about why they made that decision, and if Carmen has a right to appeal.

"The system is not working for me," she says.

Her lawyer says "we suspect that he is tinkering with the payment from social security to his son. It should have been going to the mother and it wasn't. We believe it was going to the father, he denies it, but where else would it go?"

We've heard from many angry, frustrated parents about their bad FOC experiences. The WCFOC has made it clear they will not sit down for an interview with the investigators. But we have many questions for them about the many complaints we have received and we'll continue to look for answers.
 

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