Deadbeat Dads Get Free Lawyers? Supreme Court to Decide
The Supreme Court will soon decide whether indigent people are entitled to legal representation during child support proceedings. Not only is this a bad idea, but it is also a very ineffective solution.
Although the Supreme Court has dealt with such situations before, the latest comes from the Turner v Rogers case. South Carolina resident Michael D. Turner was held in civil contempt and sent to jail for not paying his child support payments. Mr. Turner claims that he was too poor to pay his child support payments, and had he been provided adequate representation, he would not have been sent to jail.
The Sixth Amendment recognizes that as part of one’s due process protections, lawyers should be appointed to those who cannot afford legal representation. Due process rights are an individual’s constitutional right to life, liberty, and property. The Supreme Court recognizes this, but also notes that the Sixth Amendment applies to criminal proceedings, not civil. That is why indigent individuals are appointed lawyers in criminal proceedings, but not to civil matters like employment disputes or personal injury claims.
The question now is whether the Court is willing to extend the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of legal representation to a civil proceeding (child support $ dispute) that has criminal implications (the deadbeat dad goes to jail for failing to pay child support).
On the one hand, there is the argument that not providing counsel to those who are in need is a violation of an individual’s due process rights. Yes, the U.S. Constitution does grant each individual the right to life, liberty, and property. However, a rule allowing for representation to be provided in child support proceedings may not be the best solution to guarantee that a person’s due process rights are maintained.
The strongest opposing argument for such a rule has been the fear of broad application. Today it may only apply to child support proceedings, tomorrow it may be applied to alimony hearings, custody matters, immigration issues etc. Where can a limit be set, and based off of what? That seems to be the Supreme Court’s greatest concern.
From a personal perspective, I feel for people like Mr. Tyler. However, guaranteeing individuals like Mr. Tyler an attorney is a misuse of judicial resources. Child support calculations are based on the financial information provided by both parents. If the parents are honest about their finances, courts do not place an undue burden on them by requiring them to pay a ridiculous amount. Therefore, I wonder how honest Mr. Tyler was to the court when he first filled out his financial information.
What most people do not understand is that it costs a lot of money to conduct court proceedings. Having attorneys appointed to people facing criminal charges makes sense because criminal proceedings have severe punishments. However, for civil matters such as child support proceedings, honest communication can help avoid atrocious repercussions. Having attorneys appointed for such proceedings is costly.
Furthermore, these attorneys can be better used for more pertinent matters. Although attorneys aim to work efficiently and get matters taken care of as soon as possible, things do not always work out that way. Domestic relations matters, such as child support proceedings, can be drawn out with the involvement of attorneys. The unfortunate result is the child suffers as time passes because he or she is not getting the necessary financial support.
Essentially, having attorneys appointed for those who cannot afford one for domestic relations proceedings is a waste of judicial resources and likely to be counterproductive. Attorneys may not always bring the most efficient result in a timely manner. Those attorneys may be used for more server proceedings.
The key in domestic relation proceedings is honest communications and both parties having a meeting of the minds. Court appointed attorneys are less likely to reach such a goal; rather, forcing the parties to effectively communicate will bring a more favorable result. With the way our economy is going, we cannot afford to waste valuable resources.