Terminating Parental Rights in New Jersey

This process starts when the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) determines that your child’s safety and well-being is at risk. What you do from the moment DCPP or Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) become involved in any way will determine whether your rights as a parent may be terminated.

Through all of this, having an attorney will help you in fighting efforts to take your child, to recover your child if taken improperly and to aid you in putting together a plan with DCPP to reunify you with your child.

What are “reasonable efforts” by the division?

The division is required to make “reasonable efforts” in order to reunite parent and child. The goal of these efforts is to eliminate the circumstances that resulted, or that will result, in your child being taken from you. The division’s determination that reasonable efforts have failed results in a petition being filed to terminate parental rights.

How these “reasonable efforts” are made is by providing services for your family that you have agreed upon toward keeping your children in your home or reuniting child with parent. The division is to work with you to develop a plan for services that are appropriate to the specific risks in the home. Services provided, read “required,” may include parenting or child care classes, aid of a nutritionist for meal planning, anger management treatment, drug treatment, alcoholism treatment, treatment for any mental health issues that impact parenting or other classes or treatments that are deemed necessary to eliminate all risks to the child in the home.

Once this plan is put together, and in order to avoid termination of parental rights, the parent or parents must successfully complete the programs, classes or treatment that has been agreed upon. The parent must attend all visitations with the child. In looking at the list below as to how a termination petition can be filed, it can been seen that a parent’s failure to succeed in curing the situation in the home or to not be in contact for six months will likely result in the filing of a termination petition.

The division, as part of these reasonable efforts, is also required to coordinate appropriate visitation with the child and parent and to keep the parent advised of the progress, health and development of the child while in placement.

When there is no legal requirement for division to take action to prevent placement of your child or help you reunite with your child

If the rights to another of your children have been involuntarily terminated; if a parent has subjected the child to aggravated circumstances of abuse, neglect, cruelty or abandonment; a parent has been convicted of murder, aggravated manslaughter or manslaughter of another of your children; committed other acts, or omissions, that did or could have resulted in death or bodily injury to the child at issue or another child of the same parents; if the child was removed due to imminent danger to the child’s health life, safety or health; if efforts to prevent placement were not reasonable due to risk of child’s safety or health, then the division is not required to make any effort to reunite parent and child.

Even if one or more of the above circumstances is true, nothing prevents the division from providing reasonable efforts to reunite parent and child, if the division determines that reunification is in the child’s best interest.

The standards used in the determination of whether the division is required to make reasonable efforts to reunite parent and child are the child’s health, safety and need for permanency.

When can the division act to terminate parental rights?

Petition to terminate parental rights in the best interests of the child is to be filed when:

  • Continuing the parental relationship has harmed or continues to harm the child’s health, safety or development or
  • The parent is unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm facing the child or to provide a safe, stable home and the delay of permanent placement will add to the harm to the child. This can include the emotional or psychological harm to the child that would result in removing the child from the “resource family,” meaning the family the child has been living with, or
  • The division has made reasonable efforts to provide services to help the parents correct the situation that led to the child being taken and those efforts have not been successful or
  • Terminating the rights will do more good than harm

Petition to terminate parental rights when parent has abandoned the child is to be filed when:

  • Where for a period of six months or more a parent, who is able to have contact, has not had any contact with the child, the family where the child is placed or the division, and the parent’s whereabouts are not known after the divisions reasonable efforts to find the parent, or
  • The identity of the parents are not known and the division, in spite of reasonable efforts to do so, cannot locate the parents, involving an investigation by law enforcement as part of the efforts to locate or
  • If, with a child less than 30 days old, a parent has voluntarily delivered the child to, or left a child at, or arranged for another person to deliver or leave the child, at a police station or hospital emergency room and expresses no intent to return, then the division shall file a termination petition within 21 days of the delivery of such child into the hands of the division.

If you need to discuss your case of termination of parental rights or a county agency taking your child, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free consultation at 201-845-7400.

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