No Attorney for Deadbeat Dads Facing Jail

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on June 22, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If the Supreme Court got the numbers right, as a result of Tuesday's deadbeat dad ruling, there will soon be significant changes to a court's ability to enforce child support orders against parents who fail to pay.

Though it rejected the argument that parents are entitled to free counsel if facing jail for non-compliance with a support order, the Court still offered deadbeat dads some Constitutional protections.

Namely, a parent who fails to pay child support can't be punished if he actually can't afford to pay.

Across the United States, there are so-called debtors' prisons--local jails filled with parents who were found to be in civil contempt after not complying with a court order to pay child support.

Unanimously, the Supreme Court found that these parents are not entitled to free counsel under the 6th Amendment despite facing incarceration.

However, these parents are entitled to some due process protection.

Prior to the deadbeat dad ruling, the Court had ruled that person cannot be punished in a civil contempt proceeding if he cannot comply with the underlying order.

Applying this to the case at hand, the majority of Justices determined that, from henceforth, states must institute some sort of procedural safeguards to ensure that jailed deadbeat dads have made the choice not to pay.

How is this going to change child support proceedings?

A deadbeat dad must be given the opportunity to prevent ample evidence of his financial situation, and a judge must make an affirmative determination about his ability to make payments.

How will this affect the child support system as a whole?

The Supreme Court states that 70% of unpaid child support payments are owed by parents who make less than $10,000 or have no income.

These numbers indicate that, as a result of the deadbeat dad ruling, in the majority of cases, there will be very little a court can do to force payment.

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