Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court Grants Cert in Child Support Contempt Case

Rick Brundrett of The Nerve just published an excellent story about the U.S. Supreme Court's grant of cert in a child support contempt case.  He writes:

The nation’s top court will hear the appeal of an indigent Upstate 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 this month 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, 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.

The Nerve previously profiled Turner’s case in April and August.

The S.C. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on March 29 that indigent parents didn't have the right to an attorney in civil contempt hearings.  Turner appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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.

At any given time in South Carolina, there are about 1,500 people in jail for non-payment of child support, the vast majority of who were sentenced for civil contempt, according to research in 2005 and 2009 by Elizabeth “Libba” Patterson, a University of South Carolina law professor and former director of the S.C. Department of Social Services.

“The system just isn’t working that well,” Enderlin, who represented Turner for free before the S.C. Supreme Court, told The Nerve. “We’re putting people in jail, and by the time they get out, they’re twice as much in debt.”

Enderlin said he plans to attend the oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. The lead appellate attorney, who also is representing Turner at no cost, is Seth Waxman of Washington, D.C., a former U.S. solicitor general appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Read more here.


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While they are at it, the US Supreme Court should look at the entire child support racketeering scam as an anti-American program adopted from Soviet Family Law, Article 81 and declare it unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court needs to address the fact that child support is a CIVIL matter where NO probable cause exists to arrest or jail someone. Contrary to the position that the legal industry takes that you aren't being jailed for child support DEBT, but you're being jailed for violating a court order is nothing but pure semantics. Since every child support payor was never read their MIRANDA RIGHTS at the inception of the original child support order--that the CIVIL child support matter could be converted into a CRIMINAL or QUASI-CRIMINAL matter--the Supreme Court needs to strike down the overuse/abuse of the contempt powers in child support cases.

There are also severe implications under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (15 U.S.C. Sections 1673 & 1692 et seq.) and the Federal Anti-Peonage Statutes, 18 U.S.C. Sections 1581 (Peonage) and 1589 (Forced Labor under government threat).

The Supreme Court needs to address the issue of these semantics as well because the past SCOTUS case of Hicks v. Feiock and Nye v. U.S. said where both criminal and civil issues are involved, the criminal feature of the order (arrest and imprisonment) is dominant, and fixes its character for review at the appellate levels.

Until these issues are addressed fully, Due Process and Equal Protection Under Law will be continually violated by the state domestic relations courts opening up huge liability cases against an out-of-control judiciary in the United States whereby judicial and law enforcement officers who took an Oath of Office to uphold, support & defend the U.S. Constitution & respective state constitution will be subject to continuing felony Official Misconduct, impeachment, and civil suits as long as they continue to not acknowledge & recognize the fundamentally secured rights of all taxpaying litigants that come before them.

Posted by: Bruce Eden, Civil Rights Director, Dads Against Discrimination | Nov 22, 2010 6:33:48 AM

An excellent resource you've provided to your readers. Thanks for the info, I found your site very helpful.

Posted by: Family Law | Nov 23, 2010 7:47:07 PM

That is a rare legal feat! The ruling should be very interesting.

Posted by: Tulsa Divorce Attorneys | Sep 16, 2011 5:09:19 PM

You know its about time the high court stepped in- our local judges just do not get it-- If you work with the one paying support , you will find they will want to pay instead of putting them in jail and then they really want to test the system. I mean you throw us in jail --we eat for free from other taxpayers hard work- yeah that is a good idea - THINK PLEASE-- It does not take a high iq to figure that out

Posted by: WILL | Sep 17, 2011 11:58:50 PM

I am glad the high court step in need a change the custodial parents need to pay if they are getting TANF which is a grant from the federal government

Posted by: theo | Dec 9, 2013 11:42:18 AM

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