Do I need a lawyer?
It is highly recommended that you get a lawyer to make sure that your rights are protected. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may be able to find sources of free or low-cost legal help on our NY Finding a Lawyer page, or you can ask the judge to appoint a lawyer for you. When you go to court, the judge should advise both you and the other parent that you each have a right to hire a lawyer to represent you and that if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, you can ask the judge to assign a lawyer to represent you free of charge if the judge decides that your income qualifies.1 In order to qualify for a free court-appointed lawyer, your income must be below a certain amount, and the judge may ask you to produce paystubs, tax returns or other proof of your income. Do not be afraid to speak up and ask for a lawyer even if the judge does not ask you if you want one appointed. For more information on getting a lawyer appointed, go to What are the steps for filing for custody?
If you are unable to get a lawyer to help you and you plan to file for custody on your own, you may want to visit the NY Courts website, which provides links to paperwork you need to fill out and file with the court. Even if you plan on representing yourself, you should try to have a lawyer review your papers before you file them.
1 NY Fam Ct Act §262(a)(iii) & (v)
If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section may be useful to you.