Right to counsel

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

If it appears to the court in a proceeding regarding termination of parental rights (TPR) that the respondent wants an attorney and is financially unable to retain an attorney, the court shall appoint an attorney to represent the respondent.  Mich. Comp. Laws § 712A.17c(4), Mich. Ct. R. 3.915(B). Michigan Court Rule 3.977(I)(1) adds that immediately after entry of an order terminating parental rights, the court shall advise the respondent parent in writing of the right to appellate review and to an attorney if the respondent is unable to afford one. 


In In re Williams, 779 N.W.2d 286, 298 (Mich. Ct. App. 2009) (per curiam), the Michigan Court of Appeals took up the question sua sponte of the failure to appoint counsel for an nonoffending parent in a termination case pursuant to the statute, noting that "we cannot ignore a process that casts serious doubt on the integrity of the proceedings and would risk substantial injustice if allowed to stand unexamined." The court found that from the moment where the state supplemented its petition against the mother to add that the nonoffending father was unable to continue his custody of the children, the father was essentially a respondent entitled to counsel. The majority opinion also held that in calculating indigence, it is error to include the income of an adult respondent's parents, even if they cohabitate.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no