Right to counsel
06/26/2023, Legislation, Termination of Parental Rights (State) - Birth Parents
There is a right to competent counsel for indigent unrepresented parents
A Connecticut statute guarantees counsel in termination proceedings for indigent parents who appear without counsel to “a hearing held on any petition for the termination of parental rights ... filed in the Superior Court under section 17a-112 [abuse/neglect].” Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 45a-717 (a)-(b). The court is obligated to inform the unrepresented parent of their right to counsel, "and upon request, if he or she is unable to pay for counsel, shall appoint counsel to represent such respondent parent.” Id.
The right to counsel also includes the right to competent counsel. State v. Anonymous, 425 A.2d 939, 943 (Conn. 1979) (in a TPR case, holding that “Where … as here, a statute … or practice book rule … mandates the assistance of counsel, it is implicit that this means competent counsel.”).
Waiver of counsel
The statute adds that “[n]o respondent parent may waive counsel unless the court has first explained the nature and meaning of a petition for the termination of parental rights.” Id. § 45a-717(b).
Even absent parents may have the right to counsel
Regarding the right to counsel for parents who are absent from the proceedings, the Connecticut Supreme Court has stated that a trial court “should seriously consider the appointment of legal counsel to represent an absent parent in proceedings for the termination of parental rights in those cases in which the parent has received only constructive notice of the pendency of the proceedings.” In re Baby Girl B., 618 A.2d 1, 18 n.22 (Conn. 1992).
Payment of appointed counsel
As to payment of the appointed attorney, Conn. Stat. § 45a-717(b) states:
If the respondent parent is unable to pay for such respondent's own counsel or if the child or the parent or guardian of the child is unable to pay for the child's counsel, in the case of a Superior Court matter, the reasonable compensation of counsel appointed for the respondent parent or the child shall be established by, and paid from funds appropriated to, the Judicial Department and, in the case of a Probate Court matter, the reasonable compensation of counsel appointed for the respondent parent or the child shall be established by, and paid from funds appropriated to, the Judicial Department, however, in the case of a Probate Court matter, if funds have not been included in the budget of the Judicial Department for such purposes, such compensation shall be established by the Probate Court Administrator and paid from the Probate Court Administration Fund.
Right to counsel for indigent parents and Indian custodians of Indian children
In 2023, Connecticut enacted the Connecticut Indian Child Welfare Act, which provides:
In any child custody proceeding in which the state court determines indigency, the parent or Indian custodian shall have the right to court-appointed counsel in any removal, placement or termination proceeding...
See SB 1204.
Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no