Turner v. Rogers, 564 U.S. 431 is a case decided by the United States Supreme Court on June 20, 2011, that held that a state must provide safeguards to reduce the risk of erroneous deprivation of liberty
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[Chris Castanias is a father of two who was held in civil contempt for failure to pay child support. Although he requested appointed counsel due to his indigent status, the domestic relations court refused to entertain his request and he was subsequently sentenced to over 90 days in jail. In this piece, he shares his experience. — Zachary Cloud]
Divorce can be financially devastating, and equally so for both mother and father.
Imagine for a moment that you experience a 50% reduction in pay and at the same time are ordered by a court to pay not only your rent or mortgage, but that of your neighbor. Could you do it?
The economics of that scenario are similar to that of an obligor (the person ordered to pay child-support), previously living in a typical two-earner, two-child household. What happens at divorce is that the earners split up and no longer jointly contribute to the family’s financial obligations, while the designated obligor picks up an additional involuntary debt (child-support obligation) that is likely close to that of his or her existing rent or mortgage payment.
In the fictional situation described above, would you consider it fair if you were at risk of being jailed for not making both your and your neighbors housing payment in any given month. If you faced the potential of jail, would you want legal representation? If you couldn’t afford to make the housing payments, how likely would you be to afford an attorney. Is it possible that financial scenario might create a situation where you would need to ask for court appointed counsel?
There are similar parallels to my hypothetical scenario, the case of Turner v Rogers and many countless others who have been sentenced to jail without being allowed representation of legal counsel, after allegedly falling behind with child-support obligations.
The world is currently experiencing the worst economic period in modern history. In this country, foreclosures are at record high levels, yet no one is imprisoned for failing to pay their mortgage or defaulting on their rent. In 2008, statistics show that nearly 16 million child-support obligors nationwide were in default on the child-support obligation. One state, Illinois reported 88% of their obligors to be past due. For more information, see here.
I’m writing as an strong advocate of Michael Turner, because I personally experienced the exact same fate, and since the completion of what I feel was an unjust imprisonment over a year ago, I’ve no longer had any access to my children.