By Nathan Arnold
Special to DadsDivorce.com
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that parents accused of failing to pay child support can defend themselves against criminal penalties by claiming it was impossible to pay.
For years, Michigan had operated under a strict liability standard that held parents accountable for child support payments, even if they were broke.
Critics, however, have argued that it is unconstitutional to punish poor people for crimes they had no intent to commit.
The ruling now gives parents the ability to defend themselves in criminal cases involving unpaid child support for the first time in Michigan. However, establishing this defense is not easy.
Only "exceptional cases" where it was not reasonably possible for the parent to obtain the funds needed to pay can use the defense. Parents must prove that they have exhausted all their finances and explored every avenue to obtain more cash, such as the sale of assets, job searches, or any other type of lawful attempt.
Unemployed and Broke:Lowering Child Support
Dissenting justices argued that this new standard is a "nearly insurmountable barrier" for poor people and"only the rarest of persons” will be able to demonstrate this impossibility. Justice Marilyn Kelly states that Michigan is the only state without a more traditional defense for not being able to pay child support.
"In essence, the majority has created a nearly-impossible-to-satisfy defense," Kelly wrote. "The majority refuses to acknowledge that, unfortunate as it is, many people experience periods in their lives when they are insolvent. This fact does not automatically render them uncaring, deadbeat parents. And it should not necessarily render them criminals. Poverty is not a criminal offense, and our federal and state constitutions guarantee the impoverished the equal protection of the laws."
The majority disputed the allegation that Michigan was unique in its child support laws compared to the other 49 states.
This ruling affected three cases before the court. Read the rest of the article and about these three cases in "Michigan Supreme Court Gives Child-Support 'Deadbeats' A Defense, But Sets Bar High."
If you are struggling to pay child support, contact the divorce lawyers for men at Cordell & Cordell whose mission includes helping dads remain involved in their children's lives post-divorce.