Many people are aware that criminal defendants of low means can have representation through the public defender's office. The same right is typically not afforded in civil cases, unless one can convince Legal Aid or a private attorney to take the case.
Civil contempt cases blend these two concepts. In civil contempt, one can be imprisoned, although not convicted of a crime. The goal is not punishment, but coercing cooperation with the court. The most typical example is when a parent is incarcerated for failure to pay child support. Should those individuals be afforded the right to counsel? This week, the Supreme Court has answered, "Not necessarily." In Turner v. Rogers, Mr. Turner was incarcerated for 12 months for failure to pay child support. Neither he nor the custodial parent was represented by an attorney.
In Maryland, a show cause order is entered giving the delinquent parent notice of the hearing, and if incarceration is requested, notice is given of the right to a public defender. However, if the parent doesn't contact the public defender in a timely matter, he/she may be out of luck. I have seen judges order jail time where the non-paying parent did not have an attorney, as long as the judge was convinced the parent could have obtained counsel.