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Court: Minnesota man will not face felony for unpaid support

There are many parents who are upset when and if they are ordered to pay child support. They may see the order as a punishment; a way to penalize non-custodial parents. But the fact is that child support is intended to benefit the child so that his or her needs to continue to be met even when parents are no longer raising a child together. Without the support of both parents, a child's well-being could be significantly and negatively affected.

But even if these consequences of not paying child support are not enough to remind parents that they need to contribute to a child's life, maybe the legal ramifications can. In Minnesota, parents who are delinquent in child support payments could face some very real criminal and civil consequences. However, exactly what those consequences are is under debate after a recent ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court regarding unpaid child support.

According to reports, a man from Rochester, Minnesota, had fallen way behind on his support payments. In fact, he had not paid for more than 10 years and owed a whopping $83,000. It seemed clear that the man should be penalized for failing to provide the support. He was convicted of a felony, but he challenged that conviction successfully by challenging the law itself.

The law in question addresses the care and support parents are expected to provide for their children. Some people argued that expectation includes financial support; but justices agreed with the other side, which says that the wording of the law is too vague. Therefore, it is not clear if unpaid child support is evidence that a parent is not providing care and support to a child.

This ruling could have a profound impact on other similar cases across Minnesota. It could mean that parents who do not pay child support may not be charged with a felony if they say that they provided non-financial care and support to a child. 

However, this does not mean that delinquent parents will avoid punishment altogether if they fail to pay child support. People who violate court orders can still face steep fines, jail time, wage garnishment and they could even lose custody or visitation rights. In order to enforce court orders and compel compliance, parents seeking payment can speak with an attorney who is familiar with the enforcement process.

Source: KAAL-TV, "Rochester Man Wins Child Support Case, Stirs Controversy," Joehn Doetkott, Feb. 13, 2014

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