Finding an Attorney

How to Find an Attorney and What to Do If You Can’t Afford One

The law is a tool to help you meet your needs, and a lawyer is someone who can help you use that tool to make the law work best for you and your family. 

An Attorney Can:

  • Help you understand your legal permanency options and the risks and benefits of each. 
  • Help you understand the benefits and supports you, or the children may be eligible for. 
  • Advocate for you in court. 

If Child Welfare IS NOT Involved

Kinship caregivers are on their own to get legal permanency for the child (custody or adoption). You can find an attorney or proceed without one (“pro se”).  

If Child Welfare IS Involved

The Guardian Ad Litem attorney typically represents the child. The child’s parents may qualify for a court-appointed attorney. Kinship caregivers are on their own to find an attorney; however, if the child cannot return home to their parents, the DSS attorney will provide the legal work to get the kinship caregiver permanency (guardianship, adoption, or custody). 

  • When in doubt, it is always best to consult with an attorney. 
  • Inside the child welfare system: As long as you agree with the DSS’s plans for permanency (guardianship, adoption, custody), then you may not need your attorney. 
  • Outside the child welfare system (custody or adoption): Though it is possible to do this without a lawyer, the legal process is complicated, and the stakes are high. Thus, if possible, use an attorney, especially if the child’s parents do not agree with what you want to do. 

You need an attorney that specializes in family law or adoption. Call a few attorneys and ask them questions, such as:

  • What is their experience with kinship caregivers? How many have they represented in the last year? Last two years? 
  • What is their experience with what you need (civil court custody or adoption, challenging the DSS’s decisions, etc.)?
  • What is their experience with helping access public benefits? 
  • Do they provide free consultations for the first meeting? 

At the first meeting:

  • List the main facts of the case. Make sure to include all the facts, even those that may make you look bad or hurt your case.  
  • Determine whether you think you and this attorney can work as a team. 

Ask a family law attorney to work with you at a reduced cost. 

  • Ask about the possibility of a payment plan, reduced fee, or sliding fee scale. 
  • Ask whether they will provide unbundled legal services (also known as limited representation). In unbundled legal services, you keep costs lower by doing some of the legal work and research yourself. For example, you could complete all the documents to file the custody case but have the lawyer review them to make sure they are complete. Or you could have the lawyer complete all the documents and you go to court on your own. Or you could hire the lawyer to represent you only at the court hearing. 


Consider mediation rather than legal action to try to reach an agreement with the child’s parents without the expense of a custody or adoption trial. Some courts will require mediation before they will schedule a trial. Many counties have free or reduced-cost mediation services.  Before mediation, talk with a family law attorney to better understand your rights. 

“Pro Se” (Represent Yourself)

Representing yourself (“pro se”) is possible, but this is not recommended when the child’s parents disagree with what you want to do.  

  • You can find pro se forms at NC Judicial Branch and at
  • Some counties have “help desks” at family court where volunteer attorneys or local legal aid services offer limited assistance.  
  • If there is a kinship support organization in your area, they may be able to help you find a volunteer attorney. 

Legal Aid Services

Free or low-cost legal aid services and clinics are available throughout North Carolina. You can check out the list below or use the map.

Free & Low-Cost Legal Services

Justice Matters, Inc.

Statewide legal assistance is offered.

NC Free Legal Answers

A virtual legal advice pro bono clinic. Post questions to be answered via email by attorneys.

Legal Aid Child Custody Clinic

The clinic is held online and at various locations throughout the state and offers general information and guidance on child custody and visitation.

Legal Aid Offices

Legal Aid of North Carolina provides free legal help and offers various locations across the state.


610 Church St E
Ahoskie, NC 27910-3526


Counties served: Bertie, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Halifax, Hertford, Northampton, Pasquotank, Perquimans


547 Haywood Rd
Asheville, NC 28806


Counties served: Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, Polk, Rutherford, Transylvania


5525 Albemarle Road Suite 100
Charlotte, NC 28212-3610


Counties served: Mecklenburg


The Old Creamery at Church and Peachtree
363 Church Street N. Suite 200
Concord, NC 28025


Counties served: Cabarrus, Stanly, Union


201 W Main St, Ste 400
Durham, NC 27701-3228


Counties served: Caswell, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Person, Vance, Warren


327 Dick St, Ste 103
Fayetteville, NC 28301


Counties served: Cumberland, Harnett, Sampson


211 E Union St
Morganton, NC 28655-3449


Counties served: Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, McDowell


1508 S York Rd
Gastonia, NC 28052


Counties served: Cleveland, Gaston, Lincoln


122 N Elm St, Ste 700
Greensboro, NC 27401-2842


Counties served: Davidson, Guilford, Montgomery, Randolph, Rockingham, Rowan


301 Evans St, Ste 102
Greenville, NC 27858


Counties served: Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Hyde, Jones, Martin, Pamlico, Pitt, Tyrell, Washington

High Country

171 Grand Blvd
Boone, NC 28607-3615


Counties served: Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes, Yancey


201 E Livermore Drive 2nd Floor
Pembroke, NC 28372-7322


Counties served: Hoke, Robeson, Scotland


117 E Salisbury St
Pittsboro, NC 27312-5451


Counties served: Alamance, Anson, Chatham, Lee, Moore, Orange, Richmond


224 South Dawson Street,
Raleigh, NC 27601


Counties served: Johnston, Wake

Smoky Mountain: Murphy

27 Hatchett St
Murphy, NC 28906-3504


Counties served: Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Territory of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

Smoky Mountain: Sylva

1286 W Main St
Sylva, NC 28779


Counties served: Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Territory of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians


272 N Front St, Ste 220
Wilmington, NC 28401-3977


Counties served: Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Duplin, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender


208 Goldsboro St E
Wilson, NC 27893


Counties served: Edgecombe, Greene, Lenoir, Nash, Wayne, Wilson


102 W 3rd St, Ste 460
Winston-Salem, NC 27101


Counties served: Davie, Forsyth, Iredell, Stokes, Surry, Yadkin

Gailor Family Law Litigation Clinic (Campbell University)

11 S. Blount St.
Raleigh, North Carolina 27601
Offering services in Wake County

Pisgah Legal Services

Pisgah Legal Services provides a broad array of free, civil legal aid, anti-poverty advocacy and access to health care in 18 counties and the Qualla Boundary in Western North Carolina. Program availability varies by county depending on the availability and scope of funding. 1-800-489-6144

Office locations: Asheville, Brevard, Burnsville, Hendersonville, Highlands/Cashiers, Marshall, Newland, Rutherfordton, Spruce Pine, and Waynesville

NC Central University School of Law – Family Law Clinic

Offer File It Yourself Services (FIYS), Child-Custody Bundled Services (CCBS), and Family Law Advice
Office is available in Durham County Courthouse, services for Wake, Durham, and Orange counties. Call for availability: 919-530-6515

*Not Intended as Legal Advice