Delay Finding Counsel No Help for Mom

Delay Finding Counsel No Help for Mom

By Deborah Elkins
Published: March 9, 2012

Tags: , Child Custody,
The Court of Appeals affirms the circuit court’s termination of a mother’s parental rights after denying a continuance:  mother procrastinated six months in retaining counsel after perfecting her circuit court appeal, when Va. Code § 16.1-296(D) requires a hearing in 90 days; the best interests of a child in foster care 23 months require proceeding.

In September 2009, the juvenile and domestic relations district (JDR) court granted the local department of social services (DSS) an emergency removal order.  Mother was represented in the JDR court by court-appointed counsel.  In February 2011, the JDR court terminated mother’s rights and approved changing the foster care goal to adoption.  Mother appealed and a hearing was scheduled for August 2011.  Mother’s new counsel presented an agreed order to substitute counsel and moved for a continuance based on being retained only three days earlier.  The trial court denied mother a continuance citing the statutory requirement for hearing appeals in termination cases within 90 days.  After DSS presented its case, mother requested a continuance again to prepare evidence about school performance.  DSS and the child’s guardian ad litem opposed the recess citing the 23 months the child had been in foster care.  The trial court denied a recess, emphasizing the child needed a home and certainty.

On appeal, mother challenges the denial of her continuance requests arguing she was unable to participate like the mother in Haugen v. Shenandoah Valley Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 274 Va. 27 (2007).  We disagree.  The record shows no abuse of discretion.  Unlike Haugen, where a prisoner’s telephone participation was terminated, mother here procrastinated six months after perfecting her appeal before retaining new counsel to prepare her case.  The child’s best interests are the paramount consideration and are not served by lengthy delay. The statutory requirement for a hearing within 90 days supports the trial court’s refusal to delay the proceedings for evidence on one aspect of a case involving other important issues, including evidence of physical and emotional abuse.

Black v. Charlottesville Dep’t of Social Servs. (Per Curiam) No. 1872-11-2, March 6, 2012; Charlottesville Cir. Ct. (Hogshire) Wayne D. Inge for appellant; Allyson Manson-Davies for appellee; Stephanie Cangin, GAL. VLW 012-7-061 (UP), 5 pp.

Please contact us if you need legal help.

Tucker Griffin Barnes P.C.
Charlottesville, Va

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