Parental Rights Law and Litigation

If you are a parent, and are involved in child protective proceedings, you have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you.

If you are involved in child protective proceedings, exercise your right to counsel. Please do not assume that you can adequately represent yourself, or that the system is designed to protect your rights. You will be consistently warned throughout proceedings that you could face the permanent loss of your children as a result of the proceedings. That is no joke -- get a lawyer.

Be forewarned that litigation in this area can be expensive -- but remember that your family is at stake.

Defending Yourself

In most child protective proceedings, your best ability to defend against charges of abuse or neglect will come in the initial stages of the case. This is when many people try to proceed without lawyers, under the belief that if they consent to the court's taking jurisdiction over their children they will somehow improve their chances of securing the return of their children. The reality is usually quite different. Involving a competent lawyer at the start of legal proceedings may help ensure that your rights are protected, and may even result in the return of your children to your home.

Reforms in the 1990's led to a system of laws across the country that place a very high priority on permanence. If children have spent a year in foster care, courts and social workers are under considerable pressure to bring about a final resolution of their cases. At that time, if the parents are not ready to assume their responsibilities as parents or have not lived up to the court's demands upon them, it is likely that a proceeding will follow to permanently terminate parental rights.

While parents have a right to appeal from the termination of parental rights, it is rare for appellate courts to grant relief. It thus bears repeating: You are best served by obtaining quality representation at the trial court level, at the earliest possible opportunity.

Effect on the Extended Family

If a parent voluntarily places children with a responsible caregiver before an abuse or neglect report is made, that placement is likely to continue. A parent who has voluntarily placed children in a safe, appropriate home cannot be said to be either abusing or neglecting the children. Once an investigation begins, the parent loses the ability to choose where the children will live and, even if acceptable to protective services or the court, voluntarily agreeing to place the children in the home of a relative will not necessarily prevent protective proceedings from continuing.

When a relative's parental rights are terminated, the extended family's rights are terminated as well.

If you have a relative whose children are at risk of being taken from their home, you should consult with an attorney in your state about possible options which might protect your relationship with the children. Steps to protect your relationship may involve convincing the relative to voluntarily let you care for the children for a period of time while they get their act together. If the relative won't cooperate, it may involve petitioning a court for a guardianship over the children, giving you the right to care for the children until the parents remedy the problems in their home, but without the risk of the state terminating parental rights.

Copyright © 2004 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Jul 21, 2016.