From The Nerve blog:
The nation’s top court will hear the appeal of an indigent father who contends his rights were violated because he wasn’t provided an attorney before being jailed for failing to pay child support.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced it accepted the case of Michael D. Turner v. Rebecca Price and the S.C. Department of Social Services. Oral arguments could be heard as early as March, with a ruling by the nine-member court likely by the end of June 2011, based on the court’s past practice, Greenville lawyer Derek Enderlin, one of Turner’s appellate attorneys, told The Nerve on Monday.
Having an appeal accepted by the top court is a rare legal feat: Out of about 10,000 petitions the justices receive annually, only about 100 are heard during a term, which started last month.
South Carolina is one of only five states in the nation – along with Georgia, Florida, Maine and Ohio – that don’t guarantee indigent parents who owe child support the right to an attorney in civil contempt hearings that can result in jail time, according to Turner’s U.S. Supreme Court petition. That situation creates modern-day debtors’ prisons, as judges are more likely to jail indigent parents without attorneys for contempt, Turner and his supporters say in court papers.
In Texas child support courts, obligors (the person owing the child support) is generally not entitled to a court appointed lawyer if the potential punishment is "petty" — less than 6 months total in jail and less than $500 fine total. But, if the obligor could be jailed for more than 6 months total or be ordered to pay an aggregate fine over $500, then the punishment is considered "serious" and invokes the right to an attorney.
This will be an interesting case to watch and evaluate how it will impact child support collection laws and procedures across the country.
Hat Tip to the Family Law Prof Blog for the lead on this story.