Can You Get a Public Defender For a Divorce?

You may have heard of public defenders being appointed to represent individuals who cannot afford legal counsel in criminal cases. 

Can you get a public defender for a divorce case? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Public defenders are only appointed to represent defendants in criminal cases. Divorce cases are civil cases and do not fall under the purview of public defenders.

While you may not be able to get a public defender for your divorce, this article will explore alternative ways to get a divorce attorney for free. 

Tim’s Legal Tip: Public defenders are not available for divorces. However, if you cannot afford a divorce attorney, there are several resources you can use to obtain a free lawyer, such as legal aid and pro bono services.

Understanding Public Defenders

Public defenders are lawyers the government appoints to represent individuals who cannot afford legal representation in criminal cases. 

The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right to counsel in criminal cases. This right includes the right to have an attorney appointed if the defendant cannot afford one. 

However, this right does not extend to civil cases, including divorce cases.

How to Get a Free Divorce Attorney When You Can’t Afford One.

Getting a free divorce attorney can be challenging, but there are several ways to secure legal representation, even if you can’t afford one. Here are some possible options:

1. Legal Aid

Legal Aid organizations offer free legal services to low-income individuals. To see if you are eligible for a free attorney, you can do the following:  

  • Check eligibility: Legal aid organizations typically have income and asset eligibility requirements. These requirements vary depending on the organization and the services they provide. You can check the organization’s website or contact them to see if you meet the eligibility criteria.

  • Contact the organization: Once you have confirmed your eligibility, contact the legal aid organization. You can find their contact information online or by calling your local bar association. When you contact the organization, explain your situation and ask about their services. The staff will tell you if they can assist you and what information they need from you to proceed.

  • Provide necessary information: The legal aid organization will need to know the details of your case to determine if they can help you. Be prepared to provide information about your income, assets, and the nature of your legal issue. This information will assess your eligibility for free legal services and assign an attorney to your case if necessary.

2. Pro Bono Programs

Many law firms have pro bono programs where lawyers offer free legal services to clients who cannot afford to pay for them. You can contact your local bar association or law school to see if there are any pro bono programs in your area.

3. Self-Help Clinics

Many courts offer self-help clinics where you can get assistance filling out legal forms and navigating the divorce process. While they won’t provide you with a lawyer, they can give you valuable information and guidance.

 One specific example is the Los Angeles Superior Court’s Self-Help Legal Access Centers, which provide free assistance to individuals representing themselves in a divorce case. 

The centers offer workshops, clinics, and one-on-one assistance in filling out court forms, understanding court procedures, and preparing for court hearings. 

The services are provided by trained volunteers and staff attorneys who can answer questions and provide legal information, but they cannot provide legal advice or represent individuals in court. 

These self-help clinics are a valuable resource for individuals who cannot afford an attorney and need assistance navigating the divorce process.

FAQs About Public Defenders and Divorce Cases

Q. Can I get a public defender for a divorce case? 

No, public defenders are only appointed to represent individuals in criminal cases.

Q. Is it possible to get a divorce without a lawyer? 

Yes, it is possible to get a divorce without a lawyer by using a legal document preparation service or representing yourself in the case. 

However, it is crucial to understand the risks and complexities of divorce cases before proceeding without legal representation.

Q. What should I do if I cannot afford a lawyer for my divorce case? 

If you can’t afford a private attorney, you may be able to find low-cost or free legal services in your area. Some non-profit organizations offer legal aid to people who can’t afford it. You can also contact your local bar association for referrals to pro bono attorneys.

Q. Why are public defenders only available for criminal cases? 

Public defenders are typically only available for criminal cases because criminal defendants have a constitutional right to legal representation under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. 

This means that if a defendant cannot afford a private attorney, the government must provide them with one. However, this right only applies to criminal cases, not civil cases like divorce.


In summary, public defenders are not available for divorce cases. While this may seem like a disadvantage for those who cannot afford a private attorney, other resources are available such as low-cost or free legal services. 

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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