Mississippi finally authorizes appointment of counsel in termination of parental rights cases

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04/18/2016, Legislation, Termination of Parental Rights (State) - Birth Parents

In 2016, the Mississippi Legislature enacted a law authorizing youth court judges to appoint counsel for parents in termination of parental rights cases.  Until 2016, Mississippi was the only state that did not authorize appointment of counsel for parents in such cases (and the vast majority of states require appointment).


The relevant new provisions are:


  • Miss. Code §§ 43-21-201(2): "If the court determines that a parent or guardian who is a party in an abuse, neglect or termination of parental rights proceeding is indigent, the youth court judge may appoint counsel to represent the indigent parent or guardian in the proceeding."

  • Miss. Code § 99-18-13(2): "The State Defender may provide representation to parents or guardians who have been determined by the youth court judge to be indigent and in need of representation in an abuse, neglect or termination of parental rights proceeding or appeal therefrom.  Representation may be provided by staff or contract counsel including, but not limited to, by contract with legal services organizations."

  • Miss. Code 93-15-113(b): in a termination of parental rights case, “If an indigent parent does not have counsel, the court shall determine whether the parent is entitled to appointed counsel under the Constitution of the United States, the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, or statutory law and, if so, appoint counsel for the parent and then continue the hearing for a reasonable time to allow the parent to consult with the appointed counsel.  The setting of fees for court-appointed counsel and the assessment of those fees are in the discretion of the court.”

The new law follows on the heels of several reports supporting the establishment of a right to counsel for parents, such as a report from the Hancock County Youth Court Task Force and pilot projects that have measurably improved the results for parents in youth court.

Appointment of Counsel: discretionary Qualified: no


Nccrc_involvement_icon The NCCRC gave some input on the bill language.