When you are at the Probate & Family Court for a hearing, you will usually be sent by the Court to the Family Service Office. The Family Service Office (FSO) is the Probation Department at the Probate and Family Court. Cases are referred to the FSO when court documents show that certain issues are in dispute: custody, visitation, and child support are the most common.
The FSO will conduct what is called "dispute intervention." This involves the parties meeting with a Family Service Officer to look at the issues in the case and, if possible, coming to an agreement on one or more of the issues before the court. In the dispute intervention process the Family Service Officer gathers information about the case from the parties or their attorneys and evaluates and assists parties in negotiating and writing up full or partial agreements. The Family Service Officer reports information to the judge or makes recommendations, if asked by the judge.
For information about what the FSO does when the person who is supposed to pay child support has abused you, go to Child Support When There Has Been Domestic Violence.
- The FSO helps identify what problems or disagreements are before the court.
- The judge may order the FSO to gather facts about the case and report them to the court.
- The judge may ask the FSO for recommendations.
- The FSO calculates how much child support should be paid using the Child Support Guidelines.
- The FSO evaluates whether the parties can come to a full or partial agreement.
- The FSO, where possible, helps parties come to an agreement covering the issues where they can agree. It writes up those agreements for the parties to sign.
- The FSO does long term investigations and reports in writing to the court when the judge asks.