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Appeals court upholds jailing of support scofflaw

A Minnesota appeals court has ruled that a man who abandoned his ex-wife and daughter 17 years ago, disappearing and failing to pay his support obligation, was properly ordered to jail.

His daughter was 14-years old at the time of his disappearance and did not receive any child support from him. The man, now 59, owes over $130,000 in back support payments to his ex-wife, according to court records.

The man and his wife were divorced in 1995. He was ordered to make payments to his ex-wife for housing costs and child support. When he failed to do it, he was ordered to appear in court to explain his failure to comply. On the day of the hearing, July 21, 1997, he was nowhere to be found. Subsequently, it was determined that he had fled Minnesota and gone to Florida. While a warrant was issued for his arrest, years passed before it was executed.

He was finally arrested under the warrant in August of last year while he was in Rochester visiting his mother. A prosecutor commenting on the case said that the man's failure to pay child support was all the more egregious since he is a person with a good education, skills and intelligence who left his family in the lurch and willfully ignored his support obligations.

The appeals court, in its ruling upholding his incarceration, noted that the man found plenty of funds for "elegant dining," as well as domestic and international travel, while not contributing a cent towards his support obligations.

The court was unimpressed by the man's claim that he lacks any money at all, lives on help from relatives, occasional short term jobs and food stamps. The appeals court noted that the trial judge, ordering the man jailed after a civil contempt of court hearing, found that he had the ability to pay, but simply refused to do so.

Child support orders are often seen by the non-custodial parent who has to pay them as unjust punishment. What that overlooks is that the court's orders in this regard are always issued out of what is deemed to be the best interest of the child. There are legitimate methods for parents who feel they can't afford the set payments to seek modifications. Ensuring that everyone's rights are properly served and protected can be achieved with the help of experienced legal counsel.

Source: Pioneer Press, "Rochester: Court upholds jailing of father who owed $130K in family support," Emily Gurnon, Sept. 24, 2012

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