“Deadbeat Dads” May Have Right to Counsel

Posted March 23, 2011 in Your Family & The Law by Arthur Buono

You’ve heard it on TV and in the movies. "You have a right to a lawyer. If you can’t afford a lawyer one will be appointed for you." The Constitution guarantees the right to counsel in criminal cases. But should parents behind in their child support payments have free counsel too?

     
  • Right to counsel guaranteed in criminal cases
  • More child support cases ending in jail time for delinquent parents
  • From the inside, a jail cell looks the same, conviction or not
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More Debtors Go to Jail Just for Owing Money

That’s the question before the Supreme Court today. Five states do not provide free counsel to the "obligor spouse" in child support enforcement proceedings. And in those and other states delinquent parents can be jailed for failing to pay support.

The State of South Carolina says these parents aren’t entitled to a free lawyer because they’re not being locked up to punish them, but to make them pay. But does a jail cell know the difference?

Doing time for owing money is on the rise around the country. It’s not limited to jailing "deadbeat dads" who won’t – or can’t – pay support. People are being jailed for failing to pay court-ordered fines and other simple debts. We’ve come a long way from the debtor’s prisons of Dicken’s England, and it’s starting to look like a round-trip to some.

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