Bill Would Increase Child’s Representation in Proceedings to Terminate Parental Rights
Photographed by Daniel Case 2006-07-27 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A bill pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee, if passed, would increase representation for children in parental rights termination cases. (1) Termination of parental rights is a serious, irrevocable action in New Jersey. If, after reading the following, you need assistance with a legal parenting issue, particularly in Hunterdon County, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm in Lebanon, N.J.
Today, children whose parents are involved in a parental rights termination proceeding are represented by a law guardian appointed by the Office of Parental Representation, a division of the state’s Public Defender’s Office. While this is not a criminal charge, it does require a court hearing. The law guardian’s responsibility is to make sure the child’s best interest – not what either parent wants – is heard by the Court. He or she has the right to call and cross-examine witnesses during the hearing in order to accomplish this. (2)
Recently the Assembly Judiciary Committee recommended a new bill that would increase the child’s representation in such cases. The bill calls for the Office of Public Defender to provide the child with counsel who would be responsible for making sure the child’s wishes are heard in court and for protecting his or her interests throughout the case until the child’s final placement. (1)
Termination of parental rights proceedings are usually initiated by New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) as a last resort after other efforts to correct a potentially dangerous situation have failed. Prior to this, DYFS may remove children from the situation temporarily and try to help the parents eliminate any dangerous activities and/or behaviors. If that fails and the child is placed out of the home for 15 out of 22 months, parental rights termination proceedings can be considered. Out-of-home placement in itself is not reason enough for terminating the parents’ rights. Certain standards have been set that would warrant this action and at least one of the standards must be met before the proceedings can be filed. These standards include:
• The child’s best interests;
• Failure or reluctance to fix problems in the home;
• The child being abandoned by a parent or parents;
• A parent being convicted of a crime;
• Other court findings, including murder, assault or other action by a parent that did or could have caused death or serious injury to the child. (2)
New Jersey also allows for voluntary termination of parental rights, a legal process necessary when a biological parent gives a child up for adoption. This can include a divorced parent giving up rights so that the new spouse of his or her ex can adopt the child. (3)
Termination of parental rights means you lose the right to all contact with your child. Usually it is a non-reversible action. The one exception to that in New Jersey involves cases of voluntary termination of parental rights in order to facilitate adoption. If that adoption fails to go through for any reason, the petition for termination of parental rights will be vacated. (3)
It should be noted that termination of parental rights does not eliminate your child support obligation prior to the finalization of the adoption process. Also New Jersey does not allow petitions for termination of parental rights prior to the birth of the child. (3)
If you or someone you know believes their parental rights are in jeopardy, particularly in Hunterdon County, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm.