The right to one’s family is a core institution in our country and a vital interest in our society that “undeniably warrants deference and, absent a powerful countervailing interest, protection.” The right of a parent has long been considered “essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” a fundamental liberty interest that “occupies a unique place in our legal culture, given the centrality of family life as the focus for personal meaning and responsibility.” Thus, the termination of parental rights is a “unique kind of deprivation” and a proceeding in which the parent, at the very least, must have the right to be heard. “The right to be heard would be, in many cases, of little avail if it did not comprehend the right to be heard by counsel.” The Supreme Court has held, however, that indigent parents do not have a constitutional right to counsel. Whether these parents receive counsel in termination cases is left to individual state legislatures or determined by the trial courts on case-by-case bases, leaving application of the right inconsistent from state to state and court to court.
Elizabeth Mills Viney, Right to Counsel in Parental-Rights Termination Cases: How a Clear and Consistent Legal Standard Would Better Protect Indigent Families, The, 63 SMU L. Rev. 1403 (2010)