Right to counsel

Key_development Question_mark

Legislation, Termination of Parental Rights (Private) - Birth Parents

Indigent parent respondents have the right to counsel in adoption proceedings, but indigent parent petitioners do not.

According to Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 45a-717(a)-(b), if a respondent parent appears without counsel to “a hearing held on any petition for the termination of parental rights filed in the Court of Probate under section 45a-715 [adoption] ... or transferred to the Superior Court from the Court of Probate under section 45a-715 [adoption],” then “the court shall inform such respondent parent of his or her right to counsel and upon request, if he or she is unable to pay for counsel, shall appoint counsel to represent such respondent parent.” (emphasis added).  Prior to 2015, the italicized language "respondent parent" read "parties."  Because either or both parents, including minor parents, may bring a petition in probate court to terminate their parental rights (Conn. Stat. Ann. § § 45a-715[a]), a relinquishing parent who initiated the proceeding would not have a right to counsel, but a parent against whom a proceeding is brought who agrees to relinquish their parental rights would have the right to 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).

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).

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no