Report: Turner's "procedural safeguards" have failed in South Carolina

09/08/2017, Report, Civil Contempt in Family Court

A 2017 study of South Carolina child support proceedings examined what effect Turner v. Rogers (which held child support obligors are not entitled to appointed counsel even when facing incarceration) had on the way such proceedings were conducted.  Very few such studies have been done, so this is of critical importance. 


The most key finding: close to 70% of indigent obligors who had a hearing were still sentenced to contempt and incarcerated even after Turner (this rate was pretty much the same as the pre-Turner rate).  The rate of appointed counsel also didn’t change after Turner.  The study concluded that


The direct effects of the Turner holding were minimal … the Court provided states that were so inclined with a minimalist way to comply with its ruling that fell short of assuring an accurate ‘ability to pay’ determination.  South Carolina took this approach, and the study found no evidence that compliance with these ‘alternative procedures’ resulted in more accurate decision-making concerning ability to pay." 


The study notes that Turner had indirect positive effects, in that the state child support agency screened out more cases prior to a judicial hearing being conducted as the result of federal guidance from OCSE encouraging such additional screening.