A recent decision by the United States Supreme Court found that when a custodial parent brings an action for contempt for nonpayment of child support, the state is not required to provide counsel for the noncustodial parent. The state must have procedural safeguards in place to protect the contemnor’s due process rights, including the following:
- Notice to the contemnor that “ability to pay” is a critical issue
- A form to get financial information from the contemnor
- An opportunity for the contemnor to respond regarding his or her financial status at the hearing
- An express finding regarding the ability to pay
This decision was 5-4. The dissent disagreed to the extent that it was limited to civil contempt cases where the other party is unrepresented as well; those justices believed that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment created NO right for indigent defendants in civil contempt proceedings facing incarceration.
Currently, Minnesota provides public defenders for contemnors in child support hearings who are indigent and do not have counsel. With the current budget crisis and understaffing at the public defenders’ offices, this does give Minnesota a way to cut back some of those costs.