In a criminal matter an indigent defendant can be appointed an attorney. The Juvenile Court, for many years, has adopted a similar procedure for appointments when the Department of Children and Families or other licensed child placement agency is a party to a custody proceeding attempting to interfere with and sever the parent-child relationship. The Massachusetts Courts have held that in those type of parental rights termination cases, the parent, guardian or custodian of the child shall be informed of the right to counsel and the court shall appoint counsel if the parent, guardian or custodian is financially unable to retain counsel.
This principle, however, did not always extend to guardianship matters filed in the Probate and Family Court where the litigants are mostly family members even though the parent-child relationship was in as much danger of being terminated. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently changed the equation when it held in Guardianship of V.V., 470 Mass. 590; 24 N.E.3d 1022 (2015) that, “the same interests that warrant appointment of counsel when the State is involved in a guardianship proceeding are also at stake in a guardianship proceeding when the State is absent.”
The Court reasoned that the potential impact of a guardianship case upon the parent-child relationship and on the constitutional rights of parents and children, creates an automatic right for an indigent parent whose child is the subject of a guardianship proceeding to be informed about the option of having counsel assigned just like an indigent parent whose parental rights are at stake in a termination proceeding or care and protection proceeding in the Juvenile Court.