The Institute has contracted with the Legal Aid Society of Westchester County to conduct a needs assessment and feasibility study of the Family Court Assigned Counsel Plan, as part of the county’s agreement with the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services. The Institute is evaluating the strengths and future needs of the county’s program for ensuring that economically disadvantaged respondents (and in some cases, petitioners) have access to legal counsel in Family Court in matters involving, for example, child custody, child support, termination of parental rights, and intimate partner violence. New York leads the nation in ensuring that legal counsel is provided to parties who face the prospect of state action in family, as well as criminal, courts. Perhaps because so few states extend this right to counsel into the civil courts, little is known about how best to serve this population of court respondents, who face life-changing challenges regarding families’ stability. This project entails extensive consultation with key stakeholders, investigation of the needs of clients, participating attorneys, and organizations associated with Family Court procedures, and projections for future initiatives that will improve the quality of legal representation for disadvantaged clients in Family Court.
Supported by NYS ILS through a grant to the Westchester Legal Aid Society [October, 2016 – September, 2019]