You may have seen law-based movies or television series where someone goes to court and the Judge appoints a lawyer to represent them. Maybe you’ve had a friend or family member that got into trouble and they just showed up to court and an attorney was waiting there to represent them. There are a few things you should know about court appointed lawyers in the Louisiana court system.
You have a right to an attorney in a court proceeding where your life is in jeopardy or there is the risk that you will be placed under arrest and certain rights suspended for a period of time. If you cannot afford an attorney of your own, the court will appoint one for you and that attorney will fight to protect your rights in court. Court appointed lawyers are reserved for criminal matters where you face harsh penalties for crimes you are accused of committing.
Court appointed lawyers are not available in divorce cases as you usually do not have a “right” to an attorney in civil matters. Criminal proceedings ensure that you will have access to an attorney even if you cannot afford to hire an attorney. This system is in place because everyone deserves to have an attorney represent them in a criminal matter, no matter their income level. It wouldn’t be fair for only the wealthy to have access to attorney to assist them in court. Each parish in Louisiana has what is called an Indigent Defender’s Board or Public Defender Board and their job is to be present in court and represent those to whom they are appointed to represent. Public defenders know the court system well and will adequately defend you in your criminal proceedings. However, you are not afforded that same right in civil matters such as divorces.
What Happens If My Spouse Hires an Attorney and I Don’t Have One?
The judge may have compassion on you and grant you a short continuance and allow you the opportunity to go hire an attorney, but you will still have to go through with the hearing. If you were given adequate notice for the hearing and had time to make preparations; there’s a good chance you will have to proceed with the court hearing without an attorney as they are not court appointed in divorce cases in Louisiana. You must contact an attorney the moment you receive paperwork regarding your divorce as the court dates can begin shortly after you have been served. You may be afforded a pre-trial date that will give parties the opportunity to work out a deal, but some jurisdictions go straight to the hearing date. This is why it is important to call an attorney the moment you receive paperwork so that you can hire them and your attorney will have adequate time to review your case and develop a plan to help you win.
Divorces are lengthy matters and even more difficult if children and property is involved. There would be no way a court-appointed attorney could handle such matters as they are reserved for the criminal court and juvenile docket.
Are There Free Attorneys to Help with Divorce Cases?
There’s a chance you can find a pro-bono attorney that will assist with your divorce without pay, but not likely if child custody or property division is involved. This is true even if you are poverty stricken or low-income because there are not enough state resources to pay attorneys in civil matters. Pro-bono attorneys normally handle uncontested divorces and other matters that don’t require a lot of time and multiple court appearances. Ancillary matters such as child custody, child support, community property division and spousal support require a large number of hours to adequately prepare for court and most attorneys won’t handle these matters on a pro-bono basis.
You will have to seek out an attorney and pay their fees to have them represent you in a divorce proceeding in Louisiana.
Can I Represent Myself in a Divorce Case in Louisiana?
Yes, you can represent yourself in your divorce, but it is not recommended. Louisiana divorce attorneys specialize in these types of matters. You may feel that you are good at arguing, but there is much more to court than simply arguing. Your spouse’s attorney will know court procedures, how to introduce evidence and will be able to prove their case to the court. Divorce court in Louisiana is not like what you see on television, it is easy to lose a case and you likely will if you show up without an attorney.
The judge is not able to assist you once the divorce proceedings begin. You may feel that he or she will show compassion on you since you are attempting to represent yourself, but that is not the case. The judge in your divorce case must follow a set of rules and the fact that you don’t have an attorney means you will likely hit a snag and not know what to do.
It’s not even recommended that attorneys represent themselves in their own divorce cases, so a person without a legal education would have even more difficulties.
Here’s an article that may help you when choosing a divorce attorney in Louisiana.
Disclaimer: this article is for informational purposes only and not to be taken as legal advice. You must contact an attorney for Louisiana legal advice. This website is in no way your attorney, nor does it intend to provide legal advice.