Most of us are aware that we have a right to legal counsel if we are suspected of having committed a crime. This right is a major component of the Miranda warning, which reminds suspects that they have a right to an attorney, and that an attorney will be appointed for them if they cannot afford one. Unfortunately, this right only pertains to criminal charges, which do not include civil actions such as divorce. Thus, while you do have a right to counsel, the court is not required to appoint you an attorney for a divorce hearing.
While many divorces are settled without litigation, court intervention is necessary in cases involving extreme situations such as domestic violence, hidden assets and parental kidnapping. These cases are difficult to try since they rely on legal standards that are somewhat subjective; the "child's best interest", for example, is something that is unique to each individual family. Even if you are friendly with your spouse and want to work out your divorce through mediation, you should at least have an attorney review any agreements prior to signing. Affording an attorney, however, may seem impossible if your spouse controls the finances. This is common among individuals who are stay-at-home parents, or work part-time while attending school. Perhaps you have a full-time job, but your spouse may have cleaned out the bulk of your savings if they were held in joint accounts.
This doesn't mean that you have no options when it comes to receiving competent legal representation. If your annual income is extremely low, or you are dependent on government benefits such as welfare or disability, you may qualify for low-cost or pro bono legal services. Most people, however, do not meet the income requirements which are so low that most people exceed it even if they only work a part time at minimum wage. In truth, your best option is to consult a highly experienced divorce attorney, like the ones at Villani & DeLuca, P.C. Your initial consultation is free, so you have nothing to lose by coming in and finding out about your rights and options.
In most cases, our attorneys begin the process by asking your spouse to provide the initial retainer. The request will be sent to your spouse's attorney as a formal letter, thereby signifying the seriousness of this matter. The letter will emphasize that failure to pay will result in a court filing, asking the courts to order that your spouse cover your legal fees. Your spouse's attorney should explain the importance of ensuring that both of you have qualified legal representation. The courts take this issue very seriously, so your spouse arguing that money is tight is not a sufficient excuse, especially if there are credit cards, stocks, home equity, or other sources of income at his or her disposal. To find out more about your legal options in a divorce proceeding, please schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.