ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont Supreme Court has ruled that a former Vermont woman must pay child support despite her religious beliefs.
In a split decision, the court said the state can revoke the driver’s license of Joyce Stanzione, a member of Twelve Tribes Messianic Community in Arcadia, Fla., who has not paid child support since 1991.
Stanzione was ordered to pay $50 per week in child support when she and her husband divorced and he left the religious community to return to Vermont along with three of the couple’s five children, according to court papers.
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She never contested the order but made no payments, court papers said.
In 2002, Stanzione was ordered to pay $4,800 to the state to make up for the welfare payments Vermont taxpayers supplied her children while they lived with their father.
Stanzione again made no payments, and in 2003 the Office of Child Support successfully moved to have her driver’s license suspended.
Stanzione, 54, appealed that order.
Her lawyer argued that as a member of Twelve Tribes, which has a community in Island Pond, Stanzione is not permitted to have an income under church law. Suspending her license because she has no income violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects religious freedom, said attorney Jean Swantko, who is also a member of the Twelve Tribes Community.
The Vermont suspension bars her from driving in Florida which prevents her from doing church work, Swantko said.
Three of five justices ruled in September that Stanzione is able to pay child support from her share of the Twelve Tribes’ annual income.
They also said Stanzione did not show how the license suspension impinged on her religious freedom.
Associate Justice John Dooley dissented, saying her license should be restored.
The evidence “conclusively showed an inability to pay,” Dooley wrote.
Twelve Tribes has some 25 settlements worldwide, including Island Pond, which was the site of a raid by the state of Vermont in 1984. State officials alleged the community was abusing its children, but a judge dismissed all charges for a lack of evidence.