Right to counsel

Key_development Question_mark

Litigation, Child Support Establishment

Extending the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision in Lavertue v. Niman, 493 A.2d 213 (Conn. 1985) (finding due process right to counsel in paternity cases under the state and federal constitutions), the Superior Court of Connecticut for the Judicial District of Hartford in Wood v. Walker, held that the right to counsel in an underlying paternity action continued after paternity was established, i.e., to the subsequent child support determination. 2004 WL 1664229 (Conn. Super. Ct. June 25, 2004) (unpublished).  

The Wood court maintained that “indigent defendants in state supported paternity actions have a constitutional right, under both the United States and Connecticut Constitutions to court appointed counsel at state expense,” and that the law as articulated in Laverture did not distinguish (nor allow for distinction) between different stages of the paternity proceeding. Id. at *2 (citing Lavertue, 493 A.2d 213, 218 [Conn. 1985]).  


The court brushed aside the state's argument that the right to counsel only applied to "putative" fathers, relying instead on the general language in Lavertue and the fact that a parent subject to a child-support order could be subject to criminal prosecution for failure to comply with that order.  The court also disagreed with a decision from an intermediate Ohio court that had come to a different conclusion.  


In Dinkins v. Pearson, 2008 WL 2967062, at *4-5 (Conn. Super. Ct. July 10, 2008) (unpublished), however, a different court refused to extend Lavertue to reach child support proceedings that had no link to either paternity or contempt, holding instead that a magistrate’s appointment of counsel exceeded her authority.  The court in Dinkins acknowledged the allowance of appointment of counsel in Wood v. Walker, but distinguished it due to the fact that Wood was a paternity action, whereas the case at hand was a support petition. Id at *5.


Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes