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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 financial obligations.
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:
  • Tools to assist judges and their staff.
  • Best practices currently in use by Michigan judges.
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 uncollectible debts.  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.

Watch the webcast​ in which Judge John Hallacy and Judge James Brady provide an overview of ability-to-pay issues when enforcing court-ordered financial obligations. The webcast includes frequently asked questions and hypothetical scenarios.


Best Practices

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.

Trial Court Collections Best Practices Manual


The Trial Court Collections Best Practices Manual is a compilation of collections program best practices from courts across our state.  This practical information will help you identify successful collections program operations and assist your court in implementing new techniques to enforce court-ordered financial obligations.



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: Include "COLLECT Info Request" in the subject line of your e-mail.




Model Policies


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

The below training materials may be out-of-date due to forms, statutes, court rules, and/or practices changing.  It is highly advised that you review the Michigan legislative website for the up-to-date changes to legislation and the One Court of Justice website for the most up-to-date changes to forms and court rules.






Statutes & Court Rules




Training Videos

Learn how and when to communicate the expectation of payment and how to neutralize common objections.


Contact Collections at (517) 373-4987 for a passcode to view videos.

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