The Right to Counsel for Indigent Persons In Parental-Rights Termination Cases

In Texas, there is a statutory right to counsel for indigent persons in parental-rights termination cases. TEX. FAM. CODE 107.013(a)(1). The courts of appeals, however, disagree over whether that statutory right carries an implicit requirement that counsel's assistance be competent and effective. See In re K.L., 91 S.W.3d 1, 11 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2002, no pet.); In re B.L.D., 56 S.W.3d 203, 211-12 (Tex. App.-Waco 2001), rev'd on other grounds, In re J.M.S., 43 S.W.3d 60, 63 (Tex. App.-Houston 1st Dist. 2001, no pet.); In re B.B., 971 S.W.2d 160, 172 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 1998, pet. denied); Arteaga v. Tex. Dep't of Protective & Regulatory Servs., 924 S.W.2d 756, 762 (Tex. App.-Austin 1996, writ denied); In re J.F., 888 S.W.2d 140, 143 (Tex. App.-Tyler 1994, no writ); Posner v. Dallas County Child Welfare Unit, 784 S.W.2d 585, 588 (Tex. App.-Eastland 1990, writ denied); Howell v. Dallas County Child Welfare Unit, 710 S.W.2d 729, 734-35 (Tex. App.-Dallas 1986, writ ref'd n.r.e.). In Texas, indigent parents have a statutory right to counsel in termination cases. Under Family Code 107.013(a)(1), a court must appoint counsel to an indigent parent who opposes termination of his or her parental rights. TEX. FAM. CODE 107.013(a)(1). In a termination suit against two parents, both may be entitled to appointed counsel. In that circumstance, the statute provides that if "the court finds that the interests of the parents are not in conflict, the court may appoint a single attorney ad litem to represent the interests of both parents." Id. 107.013(b). The statute therefore implicitly provides that indigent parents who face termination of their parental rights in the same suit are entitled to nonconflicted counsel