If you’re a parent facing parental rights termination, you’re in a legal situation that could greatly affect the rest of your life. Because those are such serious civil charges with such profound penalties, the State of Texas will likely provide you with free legal counsel to help you mount a defense.
Should you hire a private attorney in those situations instead? While some in this situation might be concerned that a lawyer provided by the State won’t be very good, or will be in cahoots with Child Protective Services, that’s not necessarily the case. But if you do hire a private attorney, you need to make sure you have the resources to do so.
Parental termination litigation can be expensive, as I recently explained. We’re talking about multiple hearings and conferences with caseworkers over the course of what could be a 12- to 18-month case. At least four lawyers are involved in even the simplest cases, including a lawyer representing the children (and, perhaps, two lawyers if you have children with wide age ranges, such as one for the 3-5 year olds and one for the 14-17 year olds in the case).
For clients who do determine that they want to pay a lawyer to see them through the case, my first piece of advice once they’re underway is to make sure they’re meeting all deadlines. These cases will often have a plan that the parents are supposed to follow by specific dates. If there’s a call for a psychological evaluation by the end of June, for example, and a client hasn’t been given adequate information on who to contact to get that done, the client needs to communicate that concern to the lawyer well before the psychological evaluation is actually due.
Of course, having all the necessary documentation related to a case is important as well. Documentation can include audio recordings as well as physical documents; if children have been interviewed as part of a case, for instance, state law requires those interviews to be recorded.
Complete candor with your lawyer is also a must in these situations. Your lawyer needs to know what actually happened and is happening in order to best defend you. In situations in which you are being wrongly accused of abuse, it’s especially important for you to be truthful and forthright in order to help your lawyer clear your name.
Lawyers can’t create facts, after all–but they can help you determine how to best mount a defense to retain your parental rights. If you’ve determined this fight is worth hiring your own attorney, you’re giving yourself the best chance in the fight by assisting your lawyer in whichever way she feels helps the both of you the most.