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Did child custody process favor money over rights?

A highly controversial child custody case is making its way through the appellate system in one Northeastern state, and it has led to debate in Colorado and elsewhere. At issue is whether a mother who lived in poverty lost her child custody rights due to her disadvantaged financial circumstances. While the mother may have won the most recent battle, her chances of getting her daughter back are still uncertain.

The matter began when the mother realized that she was unable to provide for the needs of her daughter, who has some form of disability. She left her 4-year-old daughter at a private adoption agency that also offered short-term foster care, so that the child would be taken care of while the mother got back on her feet. After a period of time, however, the agency encouraged a foster family to ask the court to terminate the mother's parental rights and to seek to adopt the child. They did so, and the mother attempted to fight the matter in court.

Because she was unable to afford an attorney, the mother was forced to represent herself in those hearings. Had the state made the attempt to remove her parental rights, she would have been represented by an attorney at no charge. However, because the custody fight came from an individual, she was not given legal advice or representation. As a result, she lost, and her daughter was adopted by the foster family.

In appeals, the mother argued that she lost her child custody case due to having no legal counsel, as she has no history of drug or alcohol abuse, has never been accused of abuse or neglect and did not abandon her child. The appellate court agreed, and stated that she had the right to have legal counsel. They sent the case back to the trial court, where a new trial will take place. Meanwhile, the issue of whether an indigent parent is entitled to legal counsel will move up to that state's Supreme Court. If the issue moves forward, the matter could eventually be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which could have ramifications for parents in Colorado and elsewhere.

Source: northjersey.com, "N.J. Supreme Court to hear child custody case involving indigent mother", Salvador Rizzo, Dec. 21, 2015

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Brandon Ceglian

Brandon Ceglian's practice focus is family law, landlord-tenant law / real estate, civil litigation, criminal / DUI, and collections. View Attorney Profile

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J. Adam Beckman

Adam Beckman’s areas of focus are family law, adoptions and prenuptial agreements, and criminal law/DUI. View Attorney Profile

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Daniel Zolnikov practices in the areas of HOA, debt collections, landlord tenant, civil litigation and construction law. View Attorney Profile