Saturday, February 6, 2016

Do I have a Constitutional Right to an Attorney in Family Law Cases?

The theme of this week has been the question about the constitutional right to an attorney. Under the sixth amendment, you have the right to a fair trial, including the right to an attorney. However the Supreme court ruled in Brewer v. Williams (1976) that the right to an attorney occurs "at of after the time that judicial proceedings have been initiated against him, whether by formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information, or arraignment." 430 US 387, 398.

In every terms, this means you only have the right to an attorney in criminal cases and in some states only criminal felony cases. You do not have the right to an attorney in civil cases. Family law, is an area of civil law. That means you do not have a right to an attorney in family law cases. The state of California does have many free attorney (probono) programs. You should check with your local county Bar Association for referrals. In the Bay Area we have places like VLSC through Alameda County Bar Association; Bay Area Legal Aid; Eviction Defense Center (for landlord-tenant issues); Family Violence Law Center (for cases with Domestic Violence), etc However for those services you must qualify based on being low - income.

May bar associations have also started a modest means panel, to provide attorneys for medium income families at cheaper hourly rates. We at All for the Family Legal Clinic, charge on a sliding scale based on income and family size as well. The rates that we charge allow us to exist, since at this time we do not receive large grants, only small individual donations and income from clients.

It is important before signing any contract, even for modest means work that you stop and think about whether or not you will be able to afford your attorney over time. We offer consultation only services and limited scope services that allow for assistance at an overall lower cost. If you cannot qualify for free services and cant afford even a modest means attorney, then you can go to your local law library or you can meet with Self-help at your California courthouse location.