Tennessee child support law on right to a jury trial for contempt for failure to pay child support from the Supreme Court of Tennessee.
Susan L. Brown vs. Fred De Loach Latham and Patricia Peebles Walker vs. Clint Monroe Walker, Sr. – Tennessee child support law
Two cases were consolidated on appeal because both involved issues of contempt for failure to make child support payments. The question that arose is whether someone accused of contempt can request a jury trial. The Supreme Court affirmed that there is indeed a right to a jury trial when one is defending against criminal contempt charges, even when done in the context of a civil child support enforcement proceeding.
The first matter concerned Fred De Loach Latham, against whom his former wife, Susan Latham (Brown), had taken a judgment for child support arrears. She requested he be incarcerated, and he requested a jury trial. No case details were provided in the opinion as to the amount or duration of arrears claimed or the income of the Father.
The second matter involved Clint Monroe Walker, who was charged with contempt, faced incarceration, and likewise requested a jury trial. Likewise, no factual information or allegations was discussed in the Supreme Court opinion.
In both cases, the trial courts had denied the request for a jury trial. The issue first went on appeal to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, where the trial court was reversed and jury trials were granted. The issue then went higher on appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, where the Court of Appeals was affirmed, and the right to a jury trial in a contempt case involving a request for incarceration was firmly established as a statewide ruling.
The simple logic of the ruling was that a contempt case involves allegations of a criminal offense and involves the prospect of incarceration. Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-5-104 is titled “Failure to comply with child support order – Criminal sanctions.” It includes that punishment may include imprisonment in the county workhouse or county jail for a period not to exceed six months.
914 S.W.2d 887 (Tenn. 1996).
See original opinion for exact language. Legal citations omitted.
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