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Child Support Decision May Offer Clarity in Massachusetts

There has been a lot discussion around the country on what defenses an individual charged with failure to pay child support can raise at their criminal trial. In a decision handed down by the highest court of a state to our west, the justices have set a significant threshold for those who owe child support. While this decision solely applies to cases in that state the reasoning may prove useful for those in Massachusetts looking to explain to a judge or jury their inability to pay.

The recent decision arose out of a case involving a woman who was barred from presenting evidence at her criminal trial of her inability to make child support payments. She was convicted of the charge by a jury, and she subsequently appealed. In her argument, she stated that forcing someone to pay money that they do not have is a violation of an individual's constitutional rights.

The Michigan Supreme Court agreed that the woman should have been given the opportunity to explain why she couldn't pay. However, they ruled that a defendant must show exceptional circumstances to meet the impossibility defense. Some dissenting justices noted the court's majority opinion was not in line with other state's requirements.

Regardless of whether an individual is defending themselves against allegations of their failure to pay child support, or whether they are seeking to enforce a child support order, this decision may give Massachusetts citizens more clarity with regards to what their rights are. All of the turmoil surrounding such a case may be avoided, however, if the proper action is taken well in advance.

By looking into all the options available, there may be an opportunity to work out a child support payment plan that eliminates the need for litigation and instead focuses on the present and future needs of the parties involved. In those instances where a non-custodial parent simply cannot meet their financial obligation, the law provides for an application to the appropriate court for a downward modification of an existing child custody order, based upon a showing of a substantial change of circumstances.

Source:, "Michigan Supreme Court gives child-support 'deadbeats' a defense, but sets bar high," David Eggert, Aug. 1, 2012