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Should legal counsel be provided if you can't afford it?

When it comes to matters of child custody, our readers may have a lot of questions. And because every situation is unique, that leaves a lot of different answers that cannot be easily summed up with a single blog post. For this post, we wanted to focus on one particular question that many of our readers might be thinking but may not want to ask because it involves the sensitive subject of finances and a person's ability to seek counsel. Presenting the question in the form of a fictitious, yet real-life scenario, we hope to raise this question in the minds of our readers as well.

John Doe and his wife are separating and currently disputing who should have custody of their two children. John's wife makes more money than he does but her work schedule is erratic and she often works long shifts and might not be available for their kids all the time. Although John, who has a stable schedule, feels that he would be better suited as the children's primary caregiver, he unfortunately cannot afford to hire an attorney with his income alone. As a result, he's afraid he will lose custody of his children.

The question raised by his scenario is a simple one: do civil courts provide legal representation to individuals who cannot afford them on their own? The answer on the other hand may not be what he -- and others with similar circumstances -- wants to hear. Unfortunately for John and others like him, family courts do not provide legal counsel as criminal courts would. As a result, people are left to navigate a legal system they may not understand and endure potentially unfavorable outcomes in the end.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a person accused of a crime has the right to an attorney in order to protect their civil rights, some people here in Georgia might be wondering why this law is not extended to parents in child custody cases as well. After all, doesn’t a parent have rights of their own when it comes to their children?

Source: The Times Free Press, "'Right to counsel' topic of talk," The Associated Press, Nov. 18, 2013

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William C. Gentry, Attorney at Law

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William C. Gentry, Attorney at Law
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Marietta, GA 30060

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