Nor can he unwind with a cold one or smoke a cigarette, go to the movies, exercise at the gym or sample the latest cable TV offerings.
Checking into a hotel, buying plane tickets or picking up some new jewelry? Forget it.
Confronted with what he called an “egregious” violation of court orders, Clinton County Family Court Judge Timothy J. Lawliss said the father has begun working again and that it would be counterproductive to jail him when he is in a position to fulfill his child support obligation. Instead, the judge has put Thomas M. on an extremely tight budget.
The Court’s Restrictions
Thomas M. may not “purchase, lease or rent” the following:
• alcoholic beverages• cigarettes or any tobacco products• food or drink of any kind from a restaurant, bar or tavern• cell phone• television• computer• any electronic device, except medical equipment• DVD, DVR, digital musicor digital movie• recreational vehicle• recreational licenses of any kind, including, but not limited to hunting and fishing licenses• movie tickets• recreational event tickets • airfare or train fare• health club membership• sporting goods of any kind• ammunition, guns or firearms• fishing equipment• camping or hiking equipment• jewelry• magazines• newspapers• cable or satellite TV service• Internet service• campground site• hotel room• any interest in real property, except his primary residence
With the Probation Department’s prior written permission, he may “purchase, lease or rent”:
• clothing• furniture• appliances• motor vehicles• household materials for renovations, except emergency repairs; and• books
The judge ordered in Matter of Mary M., 2011 NY Slip Op 50972(U), that Thomas M. “shall not purchase, lease or rent” dozens of everyday items that are “not necessities” until he has paid Mary M. the $14,112 he owes in back child support. Meanwhile, he must stay current on $102 in weekly payments.
The unusual order does not require Thomas M. to sell any items or property he now owns or to breach any contracts or rental agreements to which he is legally obligated. But he must terminate any contracts, leases or rentals if he can do so legally.
Moreover, the judge ruled that Thomas M. cannot acquire any new clothing, furniture, appliances, motor vehicles or household materials for renovations—except emergency repairs—without the prior written permission of the county Probation Department.
The order prohibits the purchase of newspapers and magazines but permits Thomas M. to buy books—albeit with Probation’s consent.
Judge Lawliss said Family Court Act §§454(3)(c) and 456 allow him to place Thomas M. on probation until he makes good on his debt.
Family Court Act §454(3)(c) empowers judges to put violators “on probation under such conditions as the court may determine and in accordance with the provisions of the criminal procedure law.” Section 456 specifies that the “period of probation may continue so long as an order of support, order of protection or order of visitation applies to such person.”
Judge Lawliss said the goal of the probation conditions he imposed on Thomas M. “is to ensure that all monies that the respondent receives that are not required to purchase necessities are used by the respondent to pay arrears until such time as the arrears are fully satisfied.”
To that end, he also directed that Thomas M. get prior approval from Probation before changing jobs.
One court source said that Judge Lawliss had not previously imposed such specific restrictions on a violator’s spending.
Kevin L. O’Brien, an attorney specializing in child support and custodial matters at O’Brien & Associates in Albany, questioned whether Judge Lawliss has the authority to dictate Thomas M.’s lifestyle.
“I have never heard of it,” Mr. O’Brien said in an interview. “How can you limit someone’s discretionary spending? I think that goes too far. I don’t know of any cases that support that.”
Thomas M. represented himself.