Articles Posted in Children

400-07275223A recent Woman’s Day magazine article discussed “grandfamilies” or households in which grandparents fill the role of parent for their grandchildren and how these situations are becoming more common. The article cited a number of factors contributing to the need for this arrangement, including a rise in drug use between 2002 and 2012; a 25% jump in the number of young parents imprisoned between the years 1997 and 2007, and a recent recession which left many people without work. Whatever the reason, there are more grandparents parenting their grandchildren than one may think.(1)

The 2010 Census showed that one out of every ten children in this country lives with a grandparent. That Census also disclosed that in the U.S.

  • 7 million grandparents have at least one grandchild under the age of 18 living with them;
  • Of those grandparents, 2.7 million were caregivers, meaning they were in charge of providing the basic needs for their grandchildren;
  • A little more than half of the caregiving grandparents – 1.7 million – were still actively employed;
  • About 670,000 of those caregiving grandparents had a disability.(2)

Custodial grandparents come from all walks of life representing all socio-economic strata and ethnicities. And, while stepping up to fulfill a need in a child’s life may be admirable, it does not come without risks.

Oftentimes these arrangements occur when parents face some type of tragedy – loss of job, imprisonment, addiction – and, when these troubles are resolved, they look to regain custody of their children, sometimes leading to contentious or strained relationships between parent, child and grandparent. In order to preserve their relationships with their grandchildren, custodial grandparents are often urged to legalize these relationships.(3) Continue reading

international%20child%20abduction.jpgPresident Barack Obama last week signed into law the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act providing more governmental support to American parents who are embroiled in international legal battles to regain custody of children who had been abducted by their ex-spouses and taken to a foreign land. The bill was inspired by the highly-publicized, five-and-a-half year fight by New Jersey resident David Goldman to regain custody of his son Sean.(1)

Mr. Goldman’s battle began in 2004 when his then-wife took the couple’s son to visit family in her native country of Brazil. While there, the former Mrs. Goldman filed for divorce from her husband, sparking the beginning of the couple’s international custody battle. Eventually, the former Mrs. Goldman remarried but died shortly thereafter from complications suffered during childbirth. Rather than resolve the custody issue, her death complicated matters as her parents and then-husband continued her fight to retain custody of the Goldman’s son. Mr. Goldman continued his fight for custody, going so far as to enlist help from the U.S. State Department, before a Brazilian court eventually ordered the child returned to his father’s home in the States.(2)

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A Hunterdon County woman lost her appeal of a New Jersey judge’s ruling preventing her from mentioning her ex-husband or children in any of her online posts. That ban was imposed as part of the woman’s probation for a custody agreement violation. (1)

This case highlights the seriousness with which New Jersey courts view infringement of child custody arrangements. According to reports, the woman was charged with violating the custody agreement between her and her ex-husband and with attempted kidnapping of her children after taking them from New Jersey to New York, with the intention of eventually taking them across the border into Canada. She pleaded guilty to the custody agreement violation and, in return, the kidnapping charges were dropped. In response to the woman’s guilty plea, she received five years’ probation, the terms of which included a prohibition against writing anything online about her family. She was also prohibited from having contact with her children and her ex’s family. (1)

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birth%20records.jpgIt took more than 30 years, but New Jersey lawmakers may have finally reached a compromise that satisfies both adoptees’ right to know and their birth parents’ right to privacy. That compromise is the basis for a bill which, last week, won conditional approval from Gov. Chris Christie, and now awaits final approval by both the State Senate and Assembly next week. (1)

Gov. Christie announced he would sign the bill provided it allowed a “suitable” period of transition for parents of birth children adopted before August 1, 2015 to decide if and how they would like to be contacted. He recommended that the law not take effect until after December 31, 2016 in order to accommodate this. Usually laws take effect six months after being signed. (1)

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bullying.jpgIn 2011 New Jersey adopted its Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights in response to the Federal Government’s efforts to protect people, especially children, from this growing problem. Since then, schools have been responsible for addressing claims of bullying and harassment against their students to the point of monitoring even those activities that occur off campus but have the potential of affecting children when in school. Now, two Hunterdon County school districts are asking that the families of alleged bullies, as well as the bullies themselves, share in that accountability. (1)

A New Jersey Superior Court Judge recently refused to deny a motion filed by the Hunterdon Central High School and the Flemington-Raritan school districts requesting that if the districts are found liable for the harassment of one of their students, the bullies and their parents share the liability. Both districts are the subject of a lawsuit originally filed in February 2013 claiming they failed to take sufficient action to stop harassment toward one of their students. According to the lawsuit, the bullying began while the student was in fourth grade and continued through high school and involved both verbal and physical harassment. The lawsuit further claims that the harassment led to the victim developing health issues that required hospitalization for three months. (1)

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medical%20records.jpgEfforts to provide New Jersey adoptees with access to their medical and genealogical histories while protecting biological parents’ rights to privacy are under way once again. (1) This time, however, lawmakers hope they have found a workable compromise.

The latest revisions to a bill first introduced in 1980 are expected to be voted on by both the State Senate and the Assembly this week. (2) The revision would grant adoptees access to their birth certificates, including the identities of their biological parents, so that these adoptees would have open-ended access to family medical histories. As for the biological parents, the bill would allow them to stipulate whether or not they wish to be contacted. Those opting not to have any contact with the child they surrendered for adoption would be required to provide a detailed medical history and urged to update that history on an as-needed basis. (1)

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baby%20in%20car.jpgAt what age is it okay to leave a child unattended? In New Jersey, the answer depends on a number of circumstances, including where the child is being left.

A New Jersey appeals court recently ruled that a parent or custodial guardian who leaves a young child unattended in a motor vehicle, even if only for a few minutes, can be charged with abuse or neglect. This decision was in response to a 2009 case in which a mother left her young child asleep in a car seat while she ran into a store to purchase party supplies. Although she was gone only for a few minutes, the police were present when she arrived back at her car and she was arrested. Originally charged with child endangerment, the woman requested a hearing with Child Protective Services. However, since she did not deny leaving her child alone, her request for a hearing was denied.(1)

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When Megan’s Law was adopted in 1994 the purpose was to warn people of the potential dangers they may face from a convicted sex offender living in their immediate vicinity. Under the law, those convicted of certain sex crimes must enroll in a central registry which, in turn, would be made available over the internet. Those crimes which are subject to Megan’s Law requirements include sexual conduct that would damage the morals of a child, including sharing naked pictures of children.(1)

Sexting is the act of messaging nude photos of yourself to others via your smart phone. Under Megan’s Law even teenagers who engage in sexting could be required to register as sex offenders, a label that could stay with them for life. Technically, even a person taking a naked photo of him or herself can be charged with possession of child pornography if they are underage. A new bill passed by a State Assembly committee last month would protect teens from being branded as sex offenders as the result of an impetuous act.(2)

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Saturday, November 23, is National Adoption Day. This will be the fourteenth year a day has been set aside to highlight the over 100,000 children waiting to be adopted out of the foster care system in this country.(1) That is only a fraction of the total number of children in foster care, estimated by the Department of Health and Human Services to be approximately 400,000, which includes children placed in the system on a temporary basis.(2)

The goal of National Adoption Day is to celebrated adoptive families, to see the adoption of as many foster children as possible finalized, and to build a stronger relationship between those agencies imperative to the adoption process – courts, adoption agencies and adoption advocacy groups. To date, this day has helped to facilitate the adoption of about 44,500 children out of the country’s foster system. Last year alone, over 4,500 adoptions were finalized on this day. The National Adoption Day Coalition estimates that another 4,500 children could be adopted out of foster care on this year’s National Adoption Day.(1)

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baby%20and%20women%20for%20adoption.jpgWhen it comes to adoptions, the question of whose rights should take precedence – those of the adopted child or those of the biological mother – has long been debated. However, a new bill recently cleared by the State’s Health Committee may have found the compromise. (1)

In general, there are two types of adoptions: open adoptions and closed, or confidential, adoptions. In an open adoption, birth parents and adoptive parents can obtain identifying information about each other and come to agreements regarding how much or how little involvement the birth parents can have in the adopted child’s life. It should be noted that in New Jersey, while open adoptions are allowed, they are not enforceable by law. In other words, there is no legal way to enforce any agreements reached between birth and adoptive parents should either party change their mind. (2)

In closed adoptions, while adoptive and birth parents may meet, it is on a first-name only basis. No identifying information (i.e., last names, Social Security numbers) are exchanged, and the birth parents have no involvement in the raising of the adopted child once their parental rights have been surrendered. (2)

Adoptees have long argued that they have rights to information concerning their biological backgrounds, particularly medical information that may affect them or their offspring. Biological parents, particularly mothers, on the other hand, have fought for their right to privacy, especially in cases where the child given up for adoption was the result of a traumatic experience.

New Jersey law permits birth records to be released only by court order, although access to medical history is permitted in adoptions that have taken place since 1979. (1) For decades, efforts have been made to unseal New Jersey adoption records but have failed. Two years ago, the Adoption Rights bill passed the New Jersey Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie. That bill would have given adoptees access to their birth certificates, allowing them to learn the identities of their birth parents. While adoptees were in favor of this bill, advocates for birth parents argued that it violated the birth parents’ rights to privacy. (3)

Now one more attempt is being made to satisfy both sides of the adoption argument. The latest bill, which is up for full Senate review, would permit adult adoptees to ask the State Health Department for their birth certificates. Adoptees would then learn whether or not their birth parents wish to be contacted and, if so, whether they want that contact to be made directly or through an intermediary. This bill would also give those adopted in or before 1979 access to their medical records. (1)