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People in Interest of B.H.

2021 CO 39. No. 20SC498. Dependency and Neglect—Termination of Parental Rights—Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act—Right to Counsel in Termination Proceedings—Elimination of Less Drastic Alternatives to Termination.

June 1, 2021

Father directly appealed a district court order terminating his parental relationship with his son, asserting that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Because the record suggests the existence of a prior child-custody determination in Indiana, the termination order must be vacated and the case remanded for additional jurisdictional fact-finding.

Father also argued that the district court violated his right to counsel by requiring him to proceed pro se at the termination hearing. The Court concluded that the right to due process did not require the appointment of a third attorney because the risk of an erroneous deprivation of his parental rights was low. Further, father voluntarily waived his statutory right to counsel through his obstreperous and dilatory conduct.

Finally, father argued that the district court abused its discretion when it found that the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services had made reasonable efforts to reunite his family. However, the Court found no abuse of discretion.

The judgment was affirmed in part and vacated in part, and the case was remanded for additional jurisdictional fact-finding. If the district court acquires jurisdiction, it may reinstate the termination judgment based on the existing record. The district court may, but need not, appoint counsel for father.

Official Colorado Supreme Court proceedings can be found at the Colorado Supreme Court website.

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