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Did mother lose child custody rights over poverty?

A highly controversial case is heading to one state's Supreme Court, and may eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case centers on a mother who lost her parental rights, but was not represented by an attorney when that ruling was made. The unusual child custody outcome has left the mother unable to visit her child in the two years since. The outcome of this case could have ramifications for parents across the nation, including those in Texas.

The child has special needs. The mother, concerned that she lacked the financial means to provide for those needs, made the decision to seek temporary assistance by placing the child in foster care at an adoption facility. After a period of time, the adoption center asserted that the mother had abandoned her child and was unfit to parent. A foster family was encouraged to seek adoption; they did so and were successful. The mother tried to fight the adoption, but she did not have an attorney to represent her in court and lost to the foster family.

At no point was the mother accused of any form of abuse or neglect. She has no criminal history and no record of drug or alcohol abuse. Child protective services were never called in to assist the family, and there is no suggestion that the mother has ever acted in a way that would harm or threaten the safety of her daughter.

Nevertheless, the court ruled that the foster parents should be given the right to adopt the child and that the parental rights of the mother should be terminated. An appellate court ruled that a new custody trial should be scheduled, and that the mother has the right to be represented by an attorney, even if she does not have the means to pay for that service. The state's Supreme Court will consider that matter and several others in the coming year.

In the meanwhile, the state's high court is considering whether the mother should be allowed to visit with the child while the matter moves through the judicial process. The child custody case is certainly one of interest to parents in Texas and across the nation. Should the matter go before the nation's highest court, parents who are unable to pay for legal counsel to fight for their parental rights may be able to get those services free of charge.

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

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