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Child support: Michigan high court says parents must prove poverty

The Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled that impoverished parents can defend themselves in criminal cases that result from unpaid child support. Parents can do this by showing that it was impossible for them to pay the amount of child support ordered by the court.

In their defense, parents in this situation must show that a good-faith effort was made to pay the support. Such good-faith efforts include but are not limited to selling personal belongings, searching for a job and refinancing a home. In addition, for parents to avoid a criminal conviction resulting from unpaid support, it must be proven that they were unable to pay through no fault of their own.

However, some justices on the high court still believe the new standard unduly favors prosecutors. The justices described the new standard as a "nearly insurmountable barrier" to impoverished parents who don't have the means to pay. One justice went so far as to say that Michigan's rule was the strictest one in the entire country.

Although the Michigan Supreme Court made it harder for parents with unpaid child support, there is still the option of a child support modification. Courts often review child support orders and make child support modifications in applicable cases. For instance, if a paying parent's financial situation takes a serious turn for the worse, the court can and often does modify the child support order. People who find themselves financially strapped can always request a modification from the court.

Even though child support payments can seem insurmountable, it is important to know that courts can help individuals who act before their child support becomes due. This is a far better course of action than just stopping payments.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Child support defendants must prove payment impossible, state Supreme Court rules," Aug. 1, 2012

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