Deadbeat Parents’ Rights: Should Courts Provide Counsel When a Prison Sentence is On the Line?

Deadbeat Parents’ Rights: Should Courts Provide Counsel When a Prison Sentence is On the Line?

When society characterizes deadbeat parents, the last thing that is considered are the rights that deadbeat parents have in the face of their failure to pay child support owed to their children. Privacy concerns are often one of the first things to be cited, as many who post onto social media websites are being busted as a result of their postings, and most states have a website devoted to a deadbeat parent “most-wanted” list. However, in South Carolina, the issue of deadbeat parents’ rights has been the subject of much debate as deadbeat parents brought suit regarding the right to counsel for their child support defense.

South Carolina Does Not Provide Counsel to Indigent Deadbeats

South Carolina is part of a minority of states that do not provide counsel to indigent deadbeat parents fighting against sentences relating to their failure to pay child support. Other states require that indigent parents have the right to counsel because failure to pay child support has not only civil punishments, such as wage garnishment, liens, and/or other methods to remedy the failure to pay, but also can provide a possible jail sentence for up to one year.

The Reasoning Behind Not Providing Counsel

The argument that supports not providing counsel to indigent parents is twofold: first, these types of cases require that the case turn on the factual findings, rather than any legal questions; second, providing an attorney to deadbeat parents would disadvantage the custodial parents who might not be able to afford an attorney who could help pursue the child support payments in the first place. Child support is a civil contempt, but the question at issue is whether the possibility of jail time ultimately makes this civil contempt a criminal procedure issue.

Fundamental Rights Protected by the Constitution

The Sixth Amendment provides that if a defendant is facing criminal charges where his/her life and liberty is being restricted or taken away, then the defendant should be entitled to advocacy. Here, in this case, the deadbeat parent’s argument is likely that he/she is losing his/her fundamental rights because he/she is too poor to pay for child support.

The Supreme Court’s Ruling

The Supreme Court found that though the state is not required to provide counsel to indigent deadbeat parents for their civil contempt cases, even when incarceration is a possibility, there should be additional safeguards provided to ensure that a deadbeat parent has all the information and protections necessary so that his fundamental rights to due process are not violated. Potentially these safeguards could be as simple as informing the defendant what type of information on which the Court will base its decision or permitting him/her to discuss the financial circumstances with an appointed social worker.

The Effect of the Supreme Court’s Ruling

In this case, the defendant who went to jail for 12 months for not paying $6,000 of his child support was able to get a ruling showing that his due process rights were violated, but not because he did not receive access to counsel; the Court held that his due process rights were violated because additional safeguards, like the ones contemplated above, were not provided to him at all and he served a 12-month sentence as a result.

Experienced Family Law Attorneys in Mount Pleasant, Charleston Area

Failure to pay child support can have harsh consequences, and whether you owe child support, or your noncustodial counterpart owes child support to your child, it is important to speak with the experienced attorneys at the Klok Law Firm LLC. Contact the Klok Law Firm LLC today for a free and confidential consultation.