Discretionary appointment of counsel - child support contempt

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Litigation, Civil Contempt in Family Court

In Duval v. Duval, 322 A.2d 1, 2 (N.H. 1974), the New Hampshire Supreme Court stated that if there is a right to counsel in a civil contempt action, its source must be found in the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment."  The court went on to hold:


In some nonsupport contempt cases, which are not routine in nature, there may be issues of sufficient complexity so as to require the defendant to be assisted by counsel for a competent presentation of their merits. Questions such as whether the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to present his case in prior proceedings or whether he has available certain defenses such as res judicata or the statute of limitations could baffle and confuse persons who are inexperienced in the law, and it would be unfair to deny such persons the benefit of counsel if they were unable to retain a lawyer because of their financial condition.


Thus, the court held that although a right of counsel in was not established as a matter of law, "the trial court may in its discretion appoint counsel to assist an indigent defendant to present his case in a complicated nonsupport contempt hearing."

Appointment of Counsel: discretionary Qualified: no