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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

Child support suit seeks lawyers for indigent parents (2)

Earlier this week, we began a discussion of a lawsuit that is currently pending in Fulton County Superior Court. Recently, the judge presiding over the suit granted the plaintiffs’ motion for class-action status, a major step toward success in the case.

The lawsuit is seeking an order requiring the state to provide lawyers for parents who are facing possible jail sentences for failure to pay child support. Specifically, the suit claims that indigent defendants in civil contempt claims filed by the state Department of Human Services should have the assistance of legal counsel. Georgia is one of few states that does not provide low-income parents with attorneys in these cases.

The state has said that it will appeal the judge’s ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court. It claims that it is barely able to afford to provide attorneys to indigent defendants in criminal cases.

In June of this year, the United States Supreme Court heard a similar case brought by a South Carolina man who had been jailed for failure to pay child support. The court ruled that the man was not entitled to have an attorney to represent him in the case brought by his children’s mother. However, the court specifically stated that that it was not deciding whether lawyers should be provided in cases in which state social services agencies are the plaintiffs, and are represented by attorneys. It is those cases, filed by the Georgia Department of Human Services, at issue in the current state lawsuit.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that more than two-thirds of child support delinquency cases in the U.S. involve parents with income of less than $10,000 per year. Many have no income at all.

What do you think? Should the state provide lawyers to parents who fail to pay child support?

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Judge allows thousands to join child support lawsuit,” Bill Rankin, Jan. 3, 2012