Turner v. Rogers

564 U.S. 431, 131 S. Ct. 2507 (2011)

 

RULE:

In a civil contempt case for failure to pay child support, counsel was warranted where the State did not provide clear notice that the father's ability to pay was the critical question and made no findings concerning his ability to pay.

FACTS:

A family court entered an order requiring petitioner father to pay child support to the mother. The father repeatedly failed to pay the amount due and was held in contempt on five occasions. While serving a 12-month sentence, the father appealed because he was not represented by counsel at the contempt hearing. The father appealed the judgment of the state supreme court, which held that the he was not entitled to appointed counsel in the proceedings.

ISSUE:

Whether the father was entitled to counsel in this particular contempt case?

ANSWER:

Yes because the State did not provide clear notice that the father's ability to pay was the critical question and made no findings concerning his ability to pay.

CONCLUSION:

The court vacated the lower court order and held that the father was denied due process, although due process did not automatically require the State to provide counsel in civil contempt proceedings to an indigent parent subject to a support order who faces incarceration. The right to counsel was limited based upon the parent's ability to pay, the equality of representation between the parties, and State procedural safeguards. In the father's case, counsel was warranted since the State did not provide clear notice that the father's ability to pay was the critical question and made no findings concerning his ability to pay.

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