Thursday, January 14, 2010
Abel: "Keeping Families Together, Saving Money, and Other Motivations Behind New Civil Right to Counsel Laws"
Laura Abel (
In 2006, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates unanimously passed a landmark resolution, calling on states to provide a right to counsel in civil cases in which “basic human needs” are at stake. In the years leading up to the resolution’s passage, and since then, Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Montana, New York and Texas have enacted laws expanding the right to counsel in civil cases.
While most of the bills concerned child welfare in some way, their approaches varied widely and included: 1) expanding an existing right to counsel in termination of parental rights cases brought by the state so that it now covers cases in which a private individual is seeking to terminate parental rights; 2) providing counsel for parents at the early stages of child abuse and neglect cases; 3) strengthening an existing right to counsel for parents in child abuse and neglect cases by taking various measures to improve the quality of representation provided; 4) requiring the state government (or a nonprofit providing foster care services for the state) to retain an attorney to file a petition to adjust the immigration status of children who appear eligible for special immigrant juvenile status, and 5) providing counsel to parents in child custody proceedings pending in the state’s trial courts of general jurisdiction.