Many individuals end up in the family court for various reasons. It could be a divorce. It could be a legal separation. It could be other matters like a paternity case, order of protection, motion for contempt, motion to modify or numerous other cases.
Some may have seen the family law matter coming to fruition. Others may not have seen it coming at all. The filing of the case might have been a complete surprise to them.
Some individuals are lucky in that they have the financial means to afford an unexpected family law matter. Others, however, might not have such financial means. They might be worried about how they are going to get the funds for a lawyer.
One question many ask is whether the court will appoint a lawyer for them. Many understand that in a criminal law setting, the public defender is an option if they have been charged with a crime in most instances. Thus, they wonder what that is a possibility in the family court.
It is important for anybody in this situation to speak to a lawyer who is licensed and competent to practice law in their jurisdiction. The reality is that in different facts, circumstances and jurisdictions the rules can be different.
But in a general sense, there is normally not a public defender in family law matters. The right to legal counsel usually only applies where a party has been charged with a crime.
In family law for most cases, there are no criminal implications. Most parties also do not face jail time in a family law setting. This means that most parties will have to secure private legal counsel in the family court.
One exception to this general rule is where a party is facing jail time for non-support involving child support or spousal support. Where a party is indigent and cannot obtain counsel, and facing jail time, a party may have counsel appointed for them. But, again, it is vital for a party to understand that this is often still up to the discretion of the judge, there is no guarantee and the laws can vary by state.
Another exception that can sometimes apply is where a party’s parental rights to their children face termination and they are indigent. In this case, legal counsel may be appointed in some situations. But, yet again, it is vital for a party to understand that this is often still up to the discretion of the judge, there is no guarantee and the laws can vary by state.
Having said that, legal counsel is not appointed in most other family law matters. Most parties will need to obtain the funds to secure a family law. Certainly contacting the state bar, asking for contacts for a referral and doing research online can be good sources to locate a family lawyer.
There are, however, pro bono agencies in many states for parties who are indigent. Parties might seek the help and assistance of a lawyer through a pro bono agency if they lack the funding for a private lawyer. Some of these agencies do great work if they will take an individual’s case. But this is not always easy. Many agencies get more requests for pro bono representation than they have the staff to handle. If an individual is looking for pro bono representation, however, contacting the state bar for names of these pro bono agencies, doing research online or asking contacts who may know are often good options.