Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights – Step-Parent Adoption and Beyond

The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that parental rights are a right far more previous than any property right.  There are many statutes and cases in New Jersey reinforcing the fact that parents have the right to care and custody of their children.  Involuntary termination of parental rights is difficult and can be a long process, for which you will need the assistance of an experienced family law attorney.

What Is a Termination of Parental Rights?

Termination of parental rights means that a parent’s rights to a child are completely and forever severed.  That parent will no longer have the right to any visitation with the child and will not be able to petition the court in the future to modify the order.  Termination of parental rights is permanent and makes it so the law views the parent as essentially a total stranger to the child.

Involuntary versus Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights

There are two basic ways to accomplish termination of parental rights: voluntary and involuntary.  In a voluntary termination of parental rights, a parent will sign particular documents relinquishing his or her parental rights.  By contrast, with an involuntary termination of parental rights, the person seeking termination will have to file a case with the court and prove particular facts for the court to terminate the parents’ rights.

Step-Parent Adoption

One of the most common situations that will result in a case for involuntary termination of parental rights is a step-parent adoption.  With a step-parent adoption, the step-parent of the child files a case with the court seeking to terminate the parental rights of one of the parents and adopt the child him or herself.  This is commonly seen when the biological parent has little or no relationship with the child and the step-parent has formed a deep and meaningful bond with the child.


Another way that involuntary termination of parental rights may occur is in the context of a case with the DYFS/DCPP.  If a child or children is removed from a home due to negligence or abuse, DYFS/DCPP may decide it is better to terminate parental rights than to reunify the child with the parents.  This is the situation when the parents have failed to address the reason the child was removed.  If the DYFS/DCPP is successful, the child will be available for adoption to other family members or through the foster care system.

Grounds for Involuntary Termination

Under N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15, there are five grounds upon which a court may base involuntary termination of parental rights.  These grounds include: conviction of the parent for abandonment, neglect or cruelty to the child; abandonment; failure to address the reasons for removal for a year after the case began; conviction of certain serious crimes such as murder; or that it is in the best interest of the child.  In this context, “best interest” means that the child would be at serious risk of harm if returned to the parent.

Why Would a Court Refuse to Terminate Parental Rights?

A court will refuse to terminate parental rights when the person bringing the suit for termination cannot produce clear and convincing evidence to prove the elements as laid out in New Jersey statute.  A court will not terminate parental rights simply because a parent is not a perfect parent.  As a parent’s rights are protected by the United States Constitution as well as a list of important New Jersey laws, termination of parental rights is complex and much more difficult than a normal custody case.

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Experienced Family Law Attorneys

If you have questions about termination of parental rights, let us answer them.  We have extensive experience helping our clients on both sides of these cases and can talk to you about your family and your goals.

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