January 2022 | 2022COA3 (Co. Ct. App. 2022)

Parental Resp Conc ACB (Colorado 2022)

Due Process requires appointment of counsel for indigent parents when a governmental agency initiates a contempt proceeding and jail is a possible remedy. The child support office filed a contempt proceeding against the father. The petition sought a jail term for the father, which would be suspended based on payment of child support. Throughout the proceeding, the father notified the court he had no ability to pay support and requested appointed counsel. The trial court denied his request and found him in contempt. The father appealed. The appellate court reversed and remanded. Under the holding of Turner v. Rogers, 564 U.S. 431 (2011), appointment of counsel in civil contempt proceedings isn’t a right as long as procedural safeguards protect the parent’s due process rights. The appellate court found no procedural safeguards existed in this case. The father had no ability to explain his financial situation using a form. The agency had an attorney to make its prima facie case. Once the burden shifted to the father, he was on his own even though he could be sentenced to jail. He presented no evidence and called no witnesses. An attorney could have assisted him with his defense. On remand, the trial court must determine if the father is indigent and if proven, appoint counsel.

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