How To Get a Court-Appointed Lawyer for Family Court Staff Profile Picture
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Family law cases can be an emotionally trying time for families, which is often compounded when one or both parties are facing financial challenges. If you are having difficulty affording legal representation for your family law case, you may be entitled to a court-appointed attorney.

You can typically get a court-appointed lawyer to represent you in family court by filling out a form at your county courthouse. What is less straightforward, however, is determining whether or not you are eligible to receive court-appointed representation in your family law case. To learn more, get in contact with your county courthouse or schedule a consultation with a family lawyer. 

Am I Entitled To Have a Lawyer Represent Me in Family Court?

In most cases, the state does not provide a court-appointed attorney to individuals (even those who meet the income requirements) in cases concerning private custody, divorce, adoption, paternity, voluntary relinquishment of parental rights, or private termination of parental rights. Essentially, the only time you are entitled to a court-appointed attorney is if jail time or other severe consequences are at stake. Even if you do not qualify for a court-appointed lawyer, however, you have the right to legal representation in family court by a private or pro-bono attorney of your choosing.

Do I Qualify for a Court-Appointed Attorney for Family Court?

Determining whether you qualify for a court-appointed attorney in family court can be complicated. If there is any possibility you will face jail time as a result of court proceedings, you are entitled to a court-appointed attorney. However, there are other circumstances and extenuating factors that could also qualify you for a court-appointed representative. 

Income requirements

Income requirements are the first criteria the court will consider when it comes to providing you with court-appointed representation. Generally, when you apply for a court-appointed attorney, you will be asked to provide proof of your low-income (otherwise known as indigent) status. The maximum income to qualify for court-appointed representation varies from state to state. If you exceed the maximum income requirement, you can decide to forgo representation or seek other alternatives (such as the ones listed below).

Enforcement proceedings

If you are a defendant in a case to enforce visitation or child support payments, there is the possibility that you could face jail time if you are found to be in contempt of court. In this case, the court would be required to provide you with an attorney for the contempt portion of proceedings. However, the court can choose not to provide you with representation for the portions of proceedings unrelated to civil contempt charges.

Termination of parental rights

If you are facing involuntary termination of your parental rights, you are entitled to court-appointed representation throughout court proceedings and any eventual appeals. This only applies in cases in which the state has filed for termination for parental rights; if the child’s other parent has filed, you are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney. 

Alternatives To Court-Appointed Lawyers

What happens if you do not qualify for court-appointed representation? Even if you don’t meet the above criteria, you do not necessarily need to forgo legal representation altogether. If you are not eligible for a court-appointed lawyer, there are alternative forms of legal representation or other options you may pursue.

Private attorney

Firstly, the most obvious alternative to a court-appointed lawyer is a private attorney. Many private attorneys may be willing to work with low-income clients to provide payment plans or reduced fees. The benefit to hiring a private attorney is that you have more options to choose from and can hire a family attorney you truly feel is the best fit for your case. Most reputable attorneys offer a no-cost, no-obligation initial consultation in which they will review the viability of your claim and discuss your options. At this point, you can inquire into the financial cost of their services and make an informed decision. 

Pro Bono representation

If hiring a private attorney is not financially viable, you may be able to seek pro bono (“without charge”) legal representation. Law school programs, legal aid offices, or other local legal agencies may be willing to provide this free or low-cost representation to low-income individuals. 


Mediation is a term to describe out-of-court proceedings between two parties in a suit. In many cases, the two parties can come to a reasonable agreement and eliminate the need for court proceedings altogether. While there is a mediator present, neither party is required to have legal representation for this process. Mediation is an excellent option in cases where the presence of an outside arbiter can help two parties resolve an ongoing dispute before initiating a potentially lengthy and costly court case. 

Pro Se

Finally, defendants or parties in a family law case have the right to self-representation (or appearing in court “pro se”). While this may not necessarily be the most recommended option, there are many free resources available online to help navigate a family law case. However, this option should only be taken if there is no risk of severe legal consequences such as jail time or termination of parental rights.

Can My Court-Appointed Attorney Be Replaced?

Generally, courts are extremely reluctant to replace court-appointed attorneys in order to avoid abuse of the system. You can ask the court to replace your attorney, but in most cases, this request will be denied. If you truly feel that your court-appointed attorney is not doing an adequate job representing your best interests in court, you can seek out a private or pro-bono attorney.  

How To Find a Family Lawyer

If you do not qualify for a court-appointed attorney, can help you explore your options. Expertise’s comprehensive family lawyer directory can help you find low-cost, quality legal representation in your area. To begin your search, chat with the representatives of our free concierge service by calling 848-BookPro (848-266-5776).

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