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Supreme Court Weighs Rights of Parents Who Fail to Pay Child Support

April 29, 2011

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments about whether persons faced with prison time for failing to pay child support payments have the right to a court-appointed lawyer.

The case involves a man from South Carolina, who was held in contempt several times for failing to make child support payments.  He defaulted on thousands of dollars in child support payments, but with no money and no job, he could not afford to make the payments.  Because his financial condition did not permit him to make the payments, he served time in prison. 

The man argued that he did not have the means to pay what he owed. He alleged that had a court-appointed lawyer been provided for him, he would've been able to convince the judge that he did not deserve a prison term.

The Supreme Court has previously held that people who are faced with prison time for crimes must be provided with a court-appointed lawyer.  However, that decision has concerned only criminal proceedings.  The laws are vague about the rights of a person faced with a civil lawsuit. 

Opponents of legislation mandating court-appointed lawyers in civil suits believe that any law that gives defendants in a civil lawsuit the right to a court-appointed lawyer would also impact a multitude of immigration cases.  Critics say that mandating states appoint lawyers would cause states to stop trying to enforce child support orders.  In fact, they quote a New Jersey example, where the Supreme Court recognized the right of individuals to court-appointed lawyers, which has resulted in New Jersey slowing down its enforcement of child support orders.

The New Jersey family lawyers at Helmer, Paul Conley and  Kasselman represent persons in divorce,  child custody, child support, parenting, visitation and other family law-related matters across New Jersey.

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