In 1999 the Michigan legislature, with approval of the Republican governor, established a new law that made it a felony for failure to pay child support.

MCL 750.165 states at paragraph 1: “If the court orders an individual to pay support for the individual’s former or current spouse, or for a child of the individual, and the individual does not pay the support in the amount or at the time stated in the order, the individual is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 4 years or by a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both.”
Recently, the Michigan Supreme Court, split directly along party lines (as usual), clarified what defense could be used by one charged with felony failure to pay child support.  In 49 states and the District of Columbia, a defendant can defend a felony child support charge by showing an “inability to pay.”  However, the Republicans on the Michigan Supreme Court rejected this standard.  Instead, they chose to only allow a party to defend a felony child support charge by showing “impossibility” which is much tougher to prove.  In the July 2012 decision, the 4 Republican justices spent 49 pages trying to explain why they were so right.  Ten of those pages are spent trying to further explain why the dissent opinion of the three Democrats (arguing for “inability to pay”) is wrong.  You can read the case People v Likine here.
As noted by Justice Kelly in the dissent, the likely result is less justice, wrongful and unjust imprisonment of regular people who more likely guilty of bad luck rather than bad hearts, and is probably unconstitutional.  In practice, the Republicans by legislation and hyper-strict interpretation of law have effectively reestablished the dreaded debtor’s prisons of the 18th century.

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