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Child Support Law Changes

Recent amendments to the Michigan Support and Parenting Time Enforcement Act went into effect in March 2015. Some highlights include;

Address Changes and Notice:

If you are in the “system” and you move and fail to notify the court you may not receive any notices of actions against you or documents. Essentially if notices sent to you are returned for a bad address and you fail to supply a new address within 21 days you are deemed to have waived notice. The Friend of the Court will use databases including the Postal Service to find your latest address. If you are not at that address the Friend of the Court is not obligated to send you any more notices or documents unless you formally change your address with them in writing.

What this means is ” I didn’t know” will not be a lawful excuse. You are responsible for telling the court you moved and your failure to do so will be held against you.

New methods of handling non payment;

The statute now allows courts to make conditional rulings such as ordering payers to pay a certain amount within a defined period or face jail time. For instance a payer could be ordered to pay $1000 within 30 days or face 45,days in jail. Failure to pay could result in an immediate bench warrant.

The law allows the court to presume a payer has 4 weeks of payment resources. So if you are ordered to pay $100 a week, the court presumes you have the ability to pay $400 right away. It could be more if the Friend of the Court or the payee has evidence that you have additional resources. Failure to come up with the amount can result in jail time with releàse authorized for you to go to work. The court can also suspend any occupational licenses you have for failure to pay.

Similarly there is a “pay or stay” provision in the statute. A person can be ordered to pay a certain amount by a specific day or simply report to the jail until payment is made hence pay or stay. The idea is the person has the ability to make the payments but chooses not to.

Also interestingly the court can now order incarceration for lack of due diligence. This means you can be locked up not just for non payment but also for failing to look for employment for instance or submit documents or apply for benefits if the court ordered you to do so.

Alternative Contempt Track Docket; the law allows for the establishment of this new type of docket for certain individuals who have experienced difficulty in making payments.

The alternative contempt track is available for a payer who is determined by the court to have difficulty making support payments due to any of the following:

(a) A documented medical condition.
(b) A documented psychological disorder.
(c) Substance use disorder.
(d) Illiteracy.
(e) Homelessness.
(f) A temporary curable condition that the payer has difficulty controlling without assistance.
(g) Unemployment lasting longer than 27 weeks.

The court may approve a payment plan based on your inability to pay for the above reasons. However failure to abide with the plan may lead to arrest and incarceration.

It remains to be seen which circuit courts will utilize these dockets and when. However I urge payers to seriously consider applying for this relief if applicable ASAP. In my experience when new programs go into effect it is much more easy to qualify in the beginning because courts desperately want to comply with the law. Since the law is new they err on the side of leniency. However after the passage of time and with experience the courts get more restrictive and the door closes.

Years ago when the Arrears Payment Plan first went into effect we were able to get many clients payment plan approvals with little or no documentation of inability to pay. After time approval became much more difficult. Proposed plans were routinely denied by the Office of Child Support and much more documentation and proof of inability to pay were required.

Keep in mind there are other available remedies for dealing with past-due support and child support arrearage issues including cancellation and discharge under certain circumstances. Contact us to discuss your options.