Michigan Supreme Court Ability to Pay Workgroup: Tools and Guidance for Determining and Addressing an Obligor’s Ability to Pay

Over the course of six months in 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court Ability to Pay workgroup examined the issue of ability to pay and published a report with tools, best practices, and recommendations for judges and court staff around nonpayment incarceration. In particular, the workgroup created a series of checklists that judges and court staff can use to help to determine ability to pay; payment plan calculators; and, sample language to be used when notifying defendants of payment hearings. All of these tools can be accessed with links below.

You can read the Ability to Pay report here (please note that many other resources are linked in the Appendices on page 7 of the PDF), and you can access a variety of tools related to ability to pay via the Michigan Courts website.

Key Provisions
  • Whenever a court enforces fines and fees, the defendant must be given the opportunity to contest the enforcement on the basis of indigency.
  • Courts may only incarcerate a defendant for nonpayment when the court has determined that the defendant has the ability to pay but has not made a good faith effort to do so.
  • If incarceration is a possible sanction for any given hearing, the defendant must be given a public defender.
  • If a defendant fails to respond to initial collections efforts, the court should issue a Motion and Order to Show Cause that requires the defendant to come into court to explain why they haven’t paid their fines and fees. The order should inform the defendant that ability to pay will be considered at the show cause hearing.
  • Bench warrants should not be used unless a defendant fails to appear.
  • Courts should explore alternatives when a defendant risks failing to comply with the court order, such as waivers or reductions, community service, earning a GED, and “youth-oriented projects.”
Michigan Supreme Court, John Hallacy