Ability to Pay
In the three decades since the United States Supreme Court
issued its decision in Bearden v Georgia,
461 US 660 (1983), judges have been required to address the issue of ability to
pay before incarcerating a person for failure to pay court-ordered financial
obligations. Michigan law is clear that
a judge may not incarcerate someone who lacks the ability to pay court-ordered
The State Court Administrative Office convened an Ability to
Pay Workgroup in 2014 to examine the issue of ability to pay. In concluding its work on this issue, the
workgroup issued a report that provides:
The tools, best practices, and guidance provided in this
report are intended to assist judges and court staff with determining an
obligor’s ability to pay, establishing payment plans, providing payment
alternatives, enforcing court-ordered financial obligations, and identifying
Because courts deal
with diverse obligors and collections situations, some tools and best practices
may have limited application in certain courts and/or cases. See the report
We encourage courts to share best practices and success stories, as well as practices and tools to avoid. Courts that are interested in implementing a particular practice can use the information provided to identify and contact courts that already have collections practice(s) in place.
Circuit and District Court COLLECT Software
COLLECT is an application that integrates with JIS' district (DCS) and circuit (CCS) court case management systems. The application generates notices on outstanding balances that can be mailed to defendants to increase compliance with court judgments. The COLLECT application has proven to be a highly effective and successful collections tool for many courts.
For additional information, send your court number, contact name, phone number, and e-mail address to: email@example.com. Include "COLLECT Info Request" in the subject line of your e-mail.
These model policies are from the State Court Administrative Office and trial courts and are intended to generate ideas and should not be adopted verbatim. If using one of these models, before implementing the policy, the chief judge should be presented with a customized version to review and approve.
Forms Developed and Used by Local Courts
Regional Training Materials