Contempt & Imposition of a 30-day Suspended Sentence Reversed

Case: Brian S. Moore v. Kristy L. Moore
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: The trial court’s finding of contempt and imposition of a 30-day suspended sentence were reversed because the trial court denied Father’s request for the appointment of counsel.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Father and Mother divorced in 2009. Father was ordered to pay child support. Mother subsequently filed a motion for rule to show cause alleging a substantial child support arrearage. Mother’s motion included a request that the trial court sentence Father to 30 days in jail, suspended pending Father’s compliance.

Father appeared pro se at the hearing, and requested the appointment of counsel because he faced jail time. The trial court denied Father’s request, reasoning that any jail time would be suspended. The hearing proceeded, and Father was found in contempt. Father was sentenced to 30 days, suspended subject to a compliance hearing. The trial court also acknowledged it would reconsider Father’s request for counsel prior to the compliance hearing. Father appealed.

The Court of Appeals recited existing case law that an indigent defendant facing incarceration for non-payment of child support is entitled to counsel prior to the contempt hearing. Here, the Court of Appeals did not consider it relevant that the prospective sentence was suspended: “…[Father] clearly risked the possibility of losing his physical liberty as a result of the trial court’s contempt finding.”  Thus, if Father were indigent, he was entitled to the appointment of counsel before proceeding with the contempt hearing.

The trial court’s order was reversed and remanded.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Brian S. Moore v. Kristy L. Moore

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The Indiana Family Law Update is a free service provided by the Matrimonial Law Group of Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP. While significant efforts are made to ensure an accurate summary and reproduction of each opinion, readers are advised to verify all content and analysis with a traditional case law reporter before relying on the content and analysis offered here.
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