Right to Counsel in Abuse Proceeding/Permanent Surrender

Published Date Written by Erik L. Smith

Erik L. Smith, a citizen and resident of Franklin County, Ohio, urges the court to accept this case. As a certified paralegal and an advocate for natural parents in adoption, Smith regularly assists attorneys in and outside of Ohio in juvenile and adoption cases. His mission is to bring about systemic reform in child welfare and adoption law, and to educate the public about juvenile and adoption law generally. To help achieve those goals, Smith publishes regularly, both in hard copy and online, on juvenile and adoption law topics.1

Smith also has experience as a respondent in a contested adoption.2 That litigation resulted in an overturned adoption and an agreed custody arrangement. Smith now regularly receives requests from natural parents and other potential litigants for advice on practical and psychological issues of open adoption. Smith also refers correspondents to lawyers for answers to legal questions. Smith has the somewhat unique perspective of having both a legal education and experience as a party in an extensive adversarial proceeding where his parental rights were in jeopardy. That combined background should be of value here.


This case also involves a public defender and court-appointed ad litem. Counsels are paid relatively little for their time and have large caseloads. Thus, Smith hopes the court will see this brief as an aid both to the court and to effective public service.

This Case is One of Public or Great General Interest and Involves a Substantial Constitutional Question


This case presents a critical issue for the future of parents and children involved in permanent custody proceedings upon abuse complaints in juvenile court: whether the parent's counsel needs to be present at relevant, significant transactions between the parties while the abuse case is pending.

The court of appeals concluded that the mother's permanent surrender discussion with Children Services regarding the subject child was a separate, non-adversary proceeding not requiring the mother's counsel to have been present. The Appellate Court relied on two Supreme Court cases and one appellate case3 in concluding that, despite the pending adversarial proceeding between the same persons, the mother was to be treated the same as any other parent voluntarily surrendering under R.C. 5103.15. Specifically, neither the statute nor the juvenile rules "contemplated" the right of an indigent person to have an attorney present during a private contractual transfer of permanent custody.4 The Appellate Court reasoned that, because a parent could always revoke the agreement before the juvenile court consented to it, nothing in the law mandated a parent's counsel be present during the discussions leading to the permanent surrender of custody.5


1 For example, "Basics of the Ohio Putative Father Registry." Ohio Lawyer. March/April 2005. 

2 In the Interest of Baby Boy Collins., 93-PA-00361, consolidated in 93-PA-01108, Bexar County, Texas, 525th Judicial District. (Not appealed).

3 Kozak v. Lutheran Children's Aid Society (1955), 164 Ohio St. 335; 130 N.E.2d 796; In re Miller (1980), 61 Ohio St.2d 184, 399 N.E.2d 1262; In re D.C.H., 9th Dist. C.A. No. 22648, 2005-Ohio-4257, unreported. 

4 Judgment Opinion at ¶ 23.

5 Judgment Opinion at ¶ 25-26.

The Ohio Putative Father Registry–the WHAT?

I am a single man. Yet I had been in Ohio for over a year before hearing of the Ohio Putative Father Registry, and then only in a Probate Law class. The professor was covering how a child could be adopted without the birth father's consent. "ORC 3701.061: A man who has sexual intercourse with a woman is on notice that if a child is born as a result and the man is the putative father, the child may be adopted without his consent pursuant to division (B) of section 3107 of the Revised Code." That section required the man sign the Putative Father Registry within thirty days after the birth to get notice of the adoption.


Ohio Putative Father Registry: The Basics

Unwed fathers are entitled to notice of petitions to adopt their biological children. Yet many fathers lose this right by not registering timely with the Ohio putative father registry (PFR).1R.C. 3107.062. Because adoptions are probate proceedings, lawyers practicing juvenile, domestic relations, or traditional probate law may not understand how the Ohio PFR applies.  At initial consultations then, attorneys may omit counseling fathers about the registry and refer them to attorneys with more specialized experience. But the strict registration deadline, and often unknown deadline date, demand that the father register immediately. Thus the attorney should consider counseling the client about the PFR and help him register that day before referring him. This article gives the information needed to do that.

Preventing Your Infant Child From Being Adopted Without Your Consent


Consult an adoption law or family law attorney. Otherwise: An unwed father has no absolute right to veto an adoption. You must take action to preserve your rights. Whether the mother is considering adoption or not, an unwed father should, as soon as possible and preferably before the birth:

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