For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

Note: Someone in Their Corner: Protecting Pennsylvania's Domestic Violence Victims With a Civil Right to Counsel in Family Court Proceedings


Domestic violence is a pervasive, nationwide problem, one that worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, which trapped victims and abusers in the same home and often prevented victims from seeking legal relief. When victims do seek legal relief, it is usually in the form of civil protection orders, divorce, or custody, which can provide temporary or permanent relief and severance from their abusers. However, despite the benefits that having an attorney has on outcomes in civil protection order, divorce, and custody cases, there is no federal, constitutionally recognized right to counsel in these cases. Gideon v. Wainwright recognized the right to counsel for those facing criminal trial, but despite calls for a civil Gideon, the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly failed to recognize such right. As a result, some states and localities have enacted their own civil right to counsel initiatives. One of the most robust initiatives is the New York Family Court Act, section 262, which guarantees counsel to indigent litigants in domestic violence and custody proceedings, among other family court proceedings. Despite high levels of domestic violence and an indigent population whose legal needs consistently go unmet because of a lack of funding and resources, the Pennsylvania legislature has yet to recognize any civil right to counsel for indigent litigants. This Note proposes that Pennsylvania enact a civil right to counsel statute guaranteeing counsel to indigent domestic violence victims pursuing a Protection From Abuse Order, divorce, or custody. This statute should be modeled on the New York Family Court Act, section 262, with some necessary expansions and clarifications.