From time to time we hear arguments against making child support payments based the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery or involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime.
So here’s what the the California Supreme Court stated [Brent Moss v. Superior Court]:
A parent’s obligation to support a minor child is a social obligation that is no less important then compulsory military service, road building, jury service, or other constitutionally permissible enforced labor.
When, as here, however, the person claiming involuntary servitude is simply expected to seek and accept employment if available, and is free to choose the type of employment and the employer, and is also free to resign that employment if the conditions are unsatisfactory or to accept other employment, none of the aspects of ‘involuntary servitude’ which would invoke the need to apply a contextual approach to the Thirteenth Amendment analysis is present. There is no ‘servitude’ since the worker is not bound to any particular employer and has no restrictions on his freedom other than the need to comply with a lawful order to support a child. Working to earn money to support a child is not involuntary servitude anymore than working in order to pay taxes. Failure to do either may subject one to civil and criminal penalties, but that compulsion or incentive to labor does not create a condition of involuntary servitude.
Well-written, and very convincing… any further thoughts on the matter?
The above was used in a matter involving contempt sanctions, where in an unanimous decision and the Court held that:
…there is no constitutional impediment to the use of the contempt power to punish a parent who otherwise lacking monetary ability to pay child support, willfully fails and refuses to seek and accept available employment commensurate with the parents’ skills and abilities.
So is jail time an appropriate punishment for the failure/inability to pay child support?
The party found in contempt faces a possible jail sentence of up to five (5) days for each willful violation.