Right to counsel

Key_development Question_mark

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

An indigent "parent, guardian, or custodian of the child named in the petition" has a right to appointed counsel "at all critical stages of the proceedings" of a termination case.  D.C. Code § 16-2304(b)(1).  

Notably, the right to counsel extends to situations where voluntary relinquishment is sought if this occurs during the pendency of the neglect matter. See Matter of D.R., 541 A.2d 1260, 1266 (D.C. 1988) (“any attempt to surrender parental rights through voluntary relinquishment while the mother remains under the court’s neglect jurisdiction must be regarded as a “critical stage” under § 16-2304(b)(1), affording her a statutory right to counsel.”).

As to notice, Rule 6 of the D.C. Superior Court specifies that parents are to receive notice of their right to appointed counsel upon removal of the child.  SCR Neglect and Abuse Rule 6.

Finally, the right to counsel in TPR matters includes the right to effective assistance.  In In re R.E.S., the court was confronted with an ineffective assistance of counsel claim in a termination of parental rights case. 978 A.2d 182 (D.C. 2009).  Looking to the statute governing family court proceedings, the court discerned congressional intent to require effective representation:

Considering D.C.Code § 16–2304(b)(1) (2001) in conjunction with D.C.Code § 11–1103 (2009 Supp.) and Administrative Order 03–07, we hold that parents who are represented by appointed counsel in a termination of parental rights proceeding have a statutory right to the effective assistance of counsel.

Id. at 189.  The court adopted the test from Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) to measure whether counsel was ineffective. R.E.S., 978 A.2d at 189-93. 

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no