Supreme Court Rules in Parental Appeals Case

The Supreme Court voted 6 to 3 on December 16th that a state can not bar a mother from appealing a custody ruling terminating her parental rights simply because she can’t afford the involved court fees. The Court has required that fees be waived for indigents in criminal appeals, but had not extended that right to civil cases. Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ruled that states could not, “bolt the door to equal justice” because of poverty. She continued, “Choices about marriage, family life and the upbringing of children are among associational rights the court has ranked as of basic importance in our society. Few consequences of judicial action are so grave as the severance of natural family ties.”

The case involves Melissa Brooks, who lost all rights to visit her son and daughter after a judge ruled that she had not kept up custody payments. She and her husband, divorced in 1992 and he won custody of the two children. He remarried three months later and a year later petitioned a court to terminate Brooks parental rights. She appealed and paid a $100 filing fee, but could not afford the over $2,400 in other court fees.


The Washington Post - December 17, 1996

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