Under North Carolina law, an individual is normally not entitled to a court-appointed attorney in a child-custody dispute. However, if a custody dispute is accompanied by an investigation by the Division of Social Services or an action for failure to pay child support, a person is entitled to court-appointed counsel. To obtain court-appointed counsel, you must demonstrate that you are unable to afford an attorney.
Go to court on your court date. Only a judge has the authority to appoint an attorney for you, so you cannot obtain a court-appointed attorney over the phone or at the clerk of court’s office before your court date.
Ask for court-appointed counsel. On your first court date, the judge will ask you whether you wish to represent yourself, hire your own attorney or obtain a court-appointed attorney. If you say that you wish to represent yourself or hire an attorney, you have waived your right to court-appointed counsel. If you change your mind after the waiver, the judge can deny you a court-appointed attorney.
Obtain an affidavit of indigency. The court clerk will give you an affidavit of indigency to fill out. Provide your name, address, date of birth and Social Security number. Indicate whether you are involved in any other pending cases in which a court-appointed attorney has been appointed.
State your monthly income. Provide your monthly salary and name of employer, any other income received, any income received by your spouse and your spouse’s employer and the total amount of household income.
State your monthly expenses. Provide the number of persons whom you can claim as dependents, your monthly housing costs, and monthly expenses for food, utilities, health care, vehicle payments and support payments. Total your monthly expenses.
Describe your assets and liabilities. State any funds you have on hand or in a bank account, as well as any funds that are owed to you. Indicate the value of and balance due on any motor vehicles, real estate or personal property that you own. Indicate the last time you filed an income-tax return, and whether you owe anything or are owed a refund. Total your assets and liabilities. If you have posted bond, give the type of bond, the bond amount and the identity of the person who posted the bond for you.
Sign and date the affidavit of indigency and give it to the court clerk. After presenting your affidavit to the court clerk, you will be required to swear or affirm that you have truthfully completed the affidavit.
Receive appointed counsel. The judge will review your affidavit and determine whether you can afford to retain an attorney. If the judge determines that you cannot afford an attorney, she will appoint an attorney to your case and give you a new court date, typically between two and four weeks in the future. The judge will also issue an order appointing or denying court-appointed counsel. The court clerk will give you a business card with the attorney’s contact information. Contact your court-appointed attorney as soon as possible.
If a DSS investigation or Child Support Enforcement action is not part of your custody dispute, you are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney. To obtain free or low-cost legal representation, contact North Carolina Legal Aid.
A court-appointed attorney is not free. If you request a court-appointed attorney in an action related to a custody dispute and are found negligent or responsible, you will be required to pay a $60 appointment fee plus attorney fees.