Termination of Parental Rights
What Is Required in Order for the State to Terminate Parental Rights?
Parental rights are the rights one has as a parent, such as the right to see your child, make decisions about your child, and obtain information about your child. These rights are protected, and, in most cases, cannot be violated. If a parent poses a threat to a child, however, he or she may lose parental rights.
The state of New Jersey can terminate parental rights in cases involving child abuse or neglect. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) can file a complaint, also called a guardianship complaint, which starts a civil action. This action may involve a series of hearings and may lead to a trial. If the court finds the DCP&P’s complaint to be substantiated, the parent’s rights may be legally terminated if it is in the child’s best interests to do so.
But first, the DCP&P must support the complaint with evidence that the parent whose rights may be terminated either abused or neglected the child. Child abuse or neglect will not necessarily be enough to terminate all parental rights, but they may limit them. Typically, it is not in the best interests of the child to lose contact with one parent, but there are cases where the DCP&P and the court may find this to be the best option.
The DCP&P must prove that the parent whose rights are at stake harmed the child and will continue to harm the child. It must also prove that reasonable measures were taken to maintain the parent-child relationship during the child welfare case and that those measures have failed or the parent has not fixed certain problems the DCP&P has identified, such as substance abuse. And, perhaps most importantly, the DCP&P must prove that the benefits of terminating parental rights outweigh the costs of the child losing contact with that parent. There are great costs to terminating parental rights, and so it is a last resort after all other options have been exhausted. The DCP&P can also file a complaint to have parental rights terminated if the parent abandons the child or if the parent is convicted of a crime of harming a child.
Ending the Relationship
When a court terminates parental rights, it ends the legal relationship between the parent and child. The parent no longer has legal or physical custody and has no rights when it comes to caring for or making decisions about the child. Parental rights termination most commonly occurs when another person wants to adopt the child.
After parental rights are terminated, and especially if the child is adopted by another family, the biological parent has very few rights or privileges regarding the child.
Your Rights After Termination
After your parental rights are terminated, you lose the right to contact your child or get information about your child. If your child has been adopted, it is up to the adoptive parents to decide whether they will permit you the privilege of staying involved in any way in your child’s life, but you do not have a legal right you can protect.
A parent can voluntarily surrender his or her parental rights but, in doing so, loses the right to appeal the surrender. However, if you make an identified surrender, which occurs when a specific person has been identified to adopt your child, your rights could be reinstated if that person was later unable to adopt your child. The DCP&P may still try to find another potential adoptive parent, so your rights might not be permanently reinstated.
If the court terminates your parental rights after a trial, you have a right to appeal the judge’s decision. If the court upholds the judge’s decision and your rights are terminated, you have a right to ask for a final visit or to write a letter to your child and provide pictures and mementos your child can keep.
Under rare circumstances, parental rights may be reinstated, such as if the child ages out of foster care and wants to reestablish a legal relationship with the biological parent. Your information can be kept in a registry, however, so your child can contact you when he or she grows up.
Terminating parental rights is a serious action. If your parental rights are being terminated, you should speak with an experienced New Jersey custody attorney right away. Once you lose your rights, you may never be able to contact your child again. An attorney can advise you on what rights you do have and help you defend them. Defending yourself in such an action can be complex and requires a detailed knowledge of New Jersey’s child welfare policies and custody statues. You will need an advocate by your side during this process.
Do you have questions about parental rights? Williams Law Group, LLC can help you take the rights steps to ensure your rights are protected and that your child is safe from harm. Located in Union, New Jersey, Williams Law Group, LLC provides compassionate and dedicated legal services to Union, Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Monmouth, and Middlesex counties, and the surrounding areas. Our knowledgeable attorneys handle divorce and family law, child custody, and child abuse/neglect cases. Call our office at (908) 810-1083, email us at [email protected], or contact us through our confidential online form to schedule a consultation and ultimately get you connected with an experienced New Jersey divorce and child custody attorney.