Case seeks attorneys for nonpaying parents

COLUMBIA --- A South Carolina father who was repeatedly jailed after insisting he couldn't make child-support payments of about $50 a week is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to end five states' practice of locking up delinquent parents without providing them with a lawyer.

In a case to be argued before the high court today, Michael Turner contends that poor people facing time behind bars for missing payments have a constitutional right to an attorney at taxpayer expense. Florida, Maine, New Hampshire and Ohio are the other states where deadbeat parents are not automatically given a lawyer in such cases.

By at least one estimate, hundreds of people a year in those states do time for not paying child support -- a practice some advocates say penalizes both parent and child.

Opponents say providing lawyers would prove costly and clog up an already cumbersome legal process and that deadbeats already control their own destinies: If they pay, they go free.

In its ruling against Tucker, the South Carolina Supreme Court said a delinquent dad holds "the keys to his cell because he may end the imprisonment" by paying at least some of what is owed.

Georgia case

Six Georgia parents who have spent time in jail over missed child support payments filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday seeking to force the state to secure them lawyers.

The lawsuit, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, said Georgia law bans authorities from jailing a parent who can't pay child support, but it said the six plaintiffs haven't had the opportunity to prove they can't fulfill their obligations because they don't have attorneys.

The suit says the plaintiffs were in jail "for weeks, months, and sometimes over a year."

The Georgia attorney general's office declined to comment.

-- Associated Press