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SCOTUS: No Right to Attorney in Child Support Civil Contempt Proceeding

Clarkston Legal June 22, 2011

As the High Court’s term comes to an end this week, SCOTUS is issuing opinions by the day. One of those announced this week was the South Carolina case involving a father’s contempt proceeding for failure to pay his child support.

The case, Turner v Rogers, involved a series of contempt proceedings conducted in the family court. Father failed to pay his support, so he was repeatedly jailed, once for a 12-month stint. Neither father nor mother were represented by counsel in the proceedings.

The case wound its way through the South Carolina court system. By the time the case arrived at the SCOTUS, Turner had long-completed his 12-month stint in the county jail.

SCOTUS, in reversing his conviction, nevertheless held that a person involved in civil contempt hearings, as a matter of Due Process, was not entitled to an attorney. The reasons for this are because the opposing party is not the state but rather, the mother of the children. Also, the High Court found that in such proceedings, Due Process is satisfied by providing the support payor with a form to elicit financial information, providing him notice of a hearing, and by conducting a brief hearing on the payor’s finances relative to his obligation.

In this case, Turner’s conviction was reversed (even though he completed his jail stint) because he was not provided with a financial disclosure form, was not provided an attorney, and the family court erred by failing to make relevant factual findings that father was able to make the support payments when it found him in contempt. Basic stuff.

>Bottom line: pay your child support obligations.