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Who's Best for the Child? Child Custody and Parent Interaction with Child Support Enforcement


    This research broadly examines three specific topics related to Child Support Enforcement in Michigan through the Friend of the Court Bureau (FOC). The first objective is understanding how interpretation of child custody laws influences how FOC services determines parent custody and visitation arrangements. The second is assessing the influence of FOC on parenting decisions and practices. Lastly, this project will study the ways in which race and gender may influence interactions between parents/guardians and FOC.

Currently three main questions are guiding this research:

  1. How is “child’s best interest” defined and understood from each participant of the custody process (FOC staff, maternal, paternal sides)?

  2. To what extent does the interpretation of “child’s best interest” influence parenting roles and interactions?

  3. In what ways may inequality be reproduced through the custodial/child support process?


    This project is in the early stages of development and ideal for students interested in gaining experience with qualitative methods, literature review and project planning. Additionally, this project is ideal for students interested in the sociological study of family, race, gender and public policy. Details of anticipated tasks:

  • Literature Review: Students will assist in locating up-to-date literature relevant to this project. This will include maintaining a spreadsheet—template is provided—that stores the article information (i.e. title, year, abstract) as well as a link to the reading if available.

  • Project planning (questionnaire, IRB etc.): This project is in the nascent stages of development. Thus, students could be involved in multiple important planning tasks. Specifically, one important planning task will be assisting in the development of a formal project proposal as well as an interview questionnaire.

  • Preliminary observations and meetings with CSE staff: There will be opportunities for students to assist in two important tasks involving direct interaction with FOC. The first task would be accompanying us on any project-related meetings with FOC. Specifically, these meetings will be for planning and discussing the type of access we will have to this field site. The second task could involve participating in preliminary interviews and ethnographic observations at CSE. These tasks require that students complete the University’s online Program for Education & Evaluation in Responsible Research and Scholarship (PEERRS).

Supervising faculty member: Alford Young, Jr.

Average hours of Work Per Week: Hours will be decided based on the student research experience (3-9 hours of work per week, including check-ins)

Range of credit hours: 1-3 credit hours

Number of positions: 1

Contact info:

Matthew Alemu,, 734-355-1814
Adriana Ponce,, 734-430-9410