Should Court Appoint a Lawyer to Represent the Children In Parental Rights Termination Cases ?

In In re Adoption of N.A.G. and A.B.G., Appeal of B.G., 324 Pa. Super. 345, 471 A.2d 871 (Pa. Super. 1984) a natural father of two children appealed from a final decree terminating his parental rights. From the testimony at the proceedings, the trial court found clear and convincing evidence sufficient for a trier of fact to conclude that the father had failed to perform his parental duties for ten years. However, the trial court had not appointed counsel to represent the children as mandated by 23 Pa.C.S.A. 2313(a). The trial court mistakenly believed that the appointment of counsel was a discretionary matter. When the father made a request early in the hearings for the court to appoint counsel to represent the children, the trial court denied the request. Later, after the hearings were completed, the father filed exceptions to the decree. The trial court realized its error, appointed counsel to represent the children, and directed appointed counsel to review the record, interview the children, and conduct an investigation. It was the recommendation of the appointed counsel that the parental rights should be terminated. The trial court then dismissed the father's exceptions and entered a final decree. Upon an appeal by the father, this Court in N.A.G. stated the following: This was contrary to the statute's procedural mandate. The purpose of the statutory requirement, however, was not to create a right in the appellant. It was not intended to benefit a contesting parent or parents or to enhance by force of numbers the position of a contesting adult. Its purpose, rather, was to guarantee that the needs and welfare of the children would be advanced actively by an advocate whose loyalty was owed exclusively to them.