This may be boring, apologies in advance, but it’s got me all incensed: (you hear that? Something for this paper I’m writing got me incensed! I’m intellectually engaged with the law again! Administrative law didn’t ruin me forever!)

If you’re a deadbeat dad (or mom, but “deadbeat moms” lacks the charming alliteration,) and you fail to pay child support, you can be put in jail. The court will find you in contempt of court for failure to follow the order to pay, and you’ll go to jail. There are two ways you can avoid jail, or get out once you’re there: pay the child support you owe, or illustrate that you are indigent- that is, unable to pay.

There are two kinds of contempt: criminal and civil. Civil contempt is the kindler, gentler contempt: you weren’t trying to disrespect the court per se, but you didn’t follow its orders, so now the court will have you jailed to “nudge” you into doing the right thing. Criminal contempt is the snider, nastier contempt reserved for people who disrespect the judge or the court or the whole system of law we’ve got going, and it’s designed to punish you for your impudence.

This is a long setup, but trust me, it’s important. If you’re put in jail for criminal contempt (you spit in the judge’s eye when he suggests, once again, that perhaps you should start paying your child support,) you are automatically entitled to a lawyer, and if you can’t afford one yourself, the state will appount one for you, because the 6th amendment allows for the assistance of counsel in all criminal cases. If you’re put in jail for civil contempt, however, because you weren’t trying to disrespect the court but you just aren’t paying, (which is far more likely in the case of the dad who has lost his job and can’t pay ,) then yours is a civil case and you’re probably not entitled to a lawyer, so if you can’t afford to hire one yourself, you’re outta luck. Even if you shouldn’t be in jail at all because there’s a real reason you aren’t paying (say, for example, you’re broke,) you will not get a lawyer to help you prove this.

In sum: spit in eye of judge- get lawyer to defend you. Act totally appropriately and respectfully to all parties but stop paying because you have no money to pay with- no lawyer. Jail for you!

If you’re a dad who could pay but just isn’t paying for whatever reason- yes, you should perhaps spend a night or two in jail- and as soon as you pay, incidentally, you’re out. But if you’re a dad who can’t pay, you don’t get a lawyer to help you bring that key fact to the attention of the judge, and you’ll generally sit in jail for a while with no recourse.

I’m so confused.