Assigned Counsel in Divorce and Custody Cases

I am often asked whether there is a right to assigned counsel in divorce and custody cases that are either brought or are pending in the Supreme Court. While assignment of counsel to those who cannot afford it is a common place occurrence in the Family Court, until fairly recently, there was no right to assigned counsel in the Supreme Court. However, the New York Legislature recognized that litigants in custody and visitation cases brought in the Supreme Court should have the same right to the assignment of free counsel as litigants in custody and visitation cases brought in the Family court. Thus, Judiciary Law ยง35 has been amended to require justices in the Supreme Court to assign counsel in such cases. The Supreme Court justices are now required to notify parties of the right to counsel, as well as the right to an adjournment to obtain counsel, and to the right to the appointment of free counsel, if they can not afford to retain an attorney. In divorce cases, the right to assigned counsel exists only where custody or visitation are at issue. Therefore, if you are a defendant in a divorce action, and the custody or visitation is at issue, you can have a court appointed attorney represent you if you cannot hire your own counsel.

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