Right to counsel

Key_development Question_mark

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

Under Mo. Ann. Stat. § 453.030(12), a birth parent "shall have the right to legal representation and payment of any reasonable legal fees incurred throughout the adoption process." The statute adds, "in addition, the court may appoint an attorney to represent a birth parent" if certain conditions are met. These appointment conditions are slightly less onerous than § 211.211, requiring only that the birth parent request such counsel, not already be represented by counsel, and be, in the court's view, faced with "financial hardship" if obliged to hire an attorney out of pocket. The import of the overlapping provisions appears to be that a birth parent can either hire an attorney and submit for reimbursement of "reasonable" fees (presumably at the end of the proceedings) as a matter of right, or attempt to secure appointed counsel (subject to the discretion of the court) and thus avoid the reimbursement issue.

 

Section 453.030(13) adds that under ordinary circumstances, the attorney's fees of the private or appointed attorney are paid by either "the prospective adoptive parents or the child-placing agency" (the statute does not say how the court is to choose). If, however, the court opts to have the adoptive parents pay and they are financially unable to do so, then apparently the court's course of action under § 453.030(13) is to "appoint[] pro bono counsel for the birth parents," seemingly allowing conscription of an attorney without payment.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no