Right to counsel

Litigation, Paternity - Defendant/Respondent

In Lavertue v. Niman, 493 A.2d 213 (Conn. 1985), the Connecticut Supreme Court held there is a right to counsel under the state and federal constitutions in paternity cases where the child is receiving public assistance (and therefore the state is the plaintiff). The court observed that both the child and parent had interests at stake: the parent faced a potential loss of liberty if he later failed to adhere to any child support obligation created as a result of the paternity finding, and under Connecticut law, the child could later be held liable for failing to support his father and also could have claims on his father's estate. The court also observed that it was important for the child to know who his father was in terms of having an accurate family medical history.


The court also pointed out that while the state shared the child's interest in obtaining an accurate outcome, it had a countervailing interest in "find[ing] any man it can hold financially liable to reimburse it...[which] may undermine its interest in an accurate outcome."

As to the risk of error, the court found it could be significant due to the use of scientific evidence (i.e., the blood tests), and outlined the kinds of things an attorney could do.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes