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Court Decides If Fathers Jailed For Back Child Support Have Right To Counsel

While Supreme Court dismissed fathers' lawsuit, questions about specific cases remain

In a six-to-one decision, the Georgia Supreme Court has dismissed a class action lawsuit filed by a group of fathers who argued they were denied state-provided counsel when they were faced with prison time for failure to pay child support, according to the Cherokee Tribune. While the court ruled that there was no automatic right to appointed counsel in this case, the decision nonetheless leaves some questions unanswered about whether right to appointed counsel is guaranteed in other child support cases.

Class action status dismissed

The question for the court to decide was whether a lower court made the right decision by certifying the class action status for the group of fathers' lawsuit. The fathers, who faced jail because of their failure to make child support payments, argued that their constitutional rights were violated because they were not provided with state-funded defense attorneys.

The state's Supreme Court, however, said that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee a categorical right to counsel in civil contempt proceedings, even if the father is facing jail time, according to the Daily Report. The court relied on previous rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court that found the right to counsel is only guaranteed in "criminal prosecutions or proceedings functionally akin to a criminal trial." As such, the court decided to dismiss the class action status of the lawsuit.

Questions left unanswered

The decision, however, does not resolve all issues surrounding an indigent father's right to counsel if he faces incarceration. The ruling noted that in some situations a father who is behind on child support payments may have a presumptive right to state-appointed legal counsel.

The court, however, did not clarify what specific situations would give rise to that presumptive right. Instead, the court said that such a right must be based on the specific factors and complexity of each unique case in order to ensure that the father maintains his right to a fair proceeding.

Child support and modifications

While the above case leaves some questions unresolved about the rights of parents who fail to pay child support, it nonetheless highlights the seriousness of child support issues for Georgian families. As both law enforcement and courts take child support very seriously, parents who either owe or are owed child support payments will need to make sure that their rights are protected throughout the legal process.

Anybody with a child support or other related family law issue should contact a qualified family law lawyer today. By engaging with experienced legal counsel, clients will have the guidance they need to make sure their concerns are addressed in a way that respects their rights and desires.

Located in Atlanta, The Law Office of Ashley McCartney, LLC, provides comprehensive family law representation. Contact our law firm by calling 404-692-6263.

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