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Minnesota Supreme Court grants man child support reprieve

A ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court could turn rules about child support on their heads. Official reports show that a Minnesota man who refused to pay years of required child support for his two children should not be punished for the failure, largely because it is impossible to prove that he did not otherwise care for the kids. The man had owed more than $83,400 in connection with 11 years of delinquent child support.

The man had been convicted of felony charges in connection with the child support situation, with prosecutors citing a state law that made failure to provide both care and support a crime. The man contended that although he did not provide monetary support, it was impossible to tell whether he had actually cared for his children. The exact phrase "care and support" should not be construed to mean only financial assistance, according to attorneys in the case.

Supreme Court justices agreed that the law was ungainly and vague, with the word "support" referring to monetary assistance alone. Adding the word "care" changes the meaning of the law entirely, according to those legal experts. Dissenting justices claim that the state has now been limited in its ability to prosecute parents who willfully ignore attempts to collect child support in connection with court orders.

Legislators say that a rewrite of the law should be prioritized, since child support enforcement is a critical component of child welfare in the state. With a revision of the law, prosecutors could still successfully bring charges against those who fail to meet their obligations. However, the rights of those who have provided care and assistance throughout the child-rearing process could still be protected.

Parents who fail to comply with a support agreement do not always do so out of malice; in fact, some are unable to make payments because of other life circumstances. Such parents may benefit from the help of a Minnesota family attorney. These professionals can help defendants learn more about their legal rights based on their individual financial situations.

Source: Star Tribune, "Court ruling hobbles prosecution for unpaid child support" Abby Simons, Feb. 12, 2014

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