When the right to a lawyer applies only if you have money

Homes, jobs, health and families are at risk for people in poverty who need help with civil legal issues. Fairness in the justice system should not depend on how much money someone has.
Column (Maine)

Heather Denkmire
Bangor Daily News
September 2, 2015

Tags: Access to Justice

Organizations mentioned/involved: Pine Tree Legal Assistance (PTLA) (Maine)


It’s true the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution includes the guarantee of the right to an attorney if you have been arrested. However, this right to counsel is for criminal issues, not most civil cases. Issues related to housing, employment, individual or family safety and relationships, or consumer protections, just to name a few, are among those considered civil. You don’t have a constitutionally guaranteed right to an attorney under most civil circumstances.

For example, a woman is married to a man who assaults her. Protection orders in domestic violence cases are a part of the civil law system. The violent husband has told her he will get custody of their children. Custody issues are considered civil. She can’t afford a lawyer for the divorce or to fight the custody case.