December 9, 2007
No Right To Appointed Counsel In Divorce
The Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that an indigent party to a dissolution proceeding has no right to appointed counsel paid for by the state. The wife in the divorce case was pro se; the husband had retained counsel. The husband, as one might expect, prevailed in the litigation. The court majority held that the rights at stake were not so fundamental as to require counsel at public expense.
A dissent takes a different view:
"The majority fails to appreciate the full extent of the liberty interest a parent
has in the relationship with his or her child, and erroneously concludes that under
the state constitution the right to counsel does not attach unless termination of the
parent-child relationship is at stake and the State is a party to the action. I would
hold that an independent constitutional analysis applies in this context under the
state due process clause, article I, section 3. In accord with the principles
enunciated in Luscier and Myricks, an indigent parent has a due process right to
appointed counsel at public expense in residential placement proceedings
involving child placement because a parent has a liberty interest in his or her
children at stake, just as it is in termination proceedings."
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