Family Law

ABA Brief Supports Appointed Counsel for Indigent Parents in Abuse and Neglect Cases


The American Bar Association has filed an amicus supporting state-funded counsel for indigent parents facing the possible loss of their children in abuse or neglect cases filed by the state.

The brief (PDF) filed with the New Hampshire Supreme Court says the risk of error when parents are without lawyers “is too great to comport with due process” under the state constitution. A press release has more information.

In abuse and neglect proceedings, facts will need to be investigated and presented in an orderly manner, witnesses will have to be cross-examined, and psychiatric and medical testimony may be needed, the brief says. Despite relaxed evidentiary standards, most unrepresented parents will not be able to perform such functions, according to the brief. “The legal and factual complexities inherent in adversarial child custody cases can create hurdles the indigent parent cannot overcome.”

ABA policy urges federal and state governments to provide lawyers to low-income persons in “adversarial proceedings where basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody.”

A “substantial majority” of states already recognize a right to counsel for indigent parent-defendants, the brief says.

The case is In re Christian M. and Alexander M.

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