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Failure to Pay Child Support: Is Inability to Pay a Defense?

The Michigan Supreme Court has held that a parent criminally charged with failure to pay child support should be allowed to offer evidence that they are unable to make support payments due to financial hardship. The ruling could have a significant effect on parents being prosecuted for failure to pay, but only if the parent is capable of showing that the support payments are impossible to meet.

The case was decided by a 4-3 vote among the justices. The facts involved a mother who was found guilty of failing to pay child support for her children. The woman fell behind after her payments jumped from less than $200 per month to over $1000 per month. The significant increase in monthly payments was apparently the result of money the woman received for a real estate transaction.

During the trial, the woman wanted the opportunity to explain why she fell behind in payments. Specifically, the mother of three wanted to offer testimony to the jury that during the time she was delinquent, between February 2005 and March 2008, she was unemployed and living on Social Security payments she received due to mental illness. The court declined to allow the testimony. The woman was convicted and sentenced to 43 days in jail.

The Michigan Attorney General’s Child Support Division takes child support enforcement very seriously. Under Michigan law, the penalty for a conviction for failing to pay child support is up to four years in prison and $2000 in fines. Depending on which side of the case you are on, the new decision may be a benefit or a burden. It remains to be seen how the recent ruling will affect child support enforcement in Michigan.

Source: Detroit Free Press, “Michigan Supreme Court clarifies child support ruling,” Cecil Angel, August 2, 2012.

Our firm handles situations such as those discussed in this post. Follow the link to learn more about our child support practice.