Articles Posted in Adoption

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As an attorney who practices family law, I can attest to how painful battles for custody over children are when couples separate.   Even more painful are disputes between adoptive and biological14688d11364778879628f618a4504f40-300x169 parents fighting over custody of a baby.   Among the most famous and newsworthy of such disputes was the New Jersey case of “Baby M”, which was decided ultimately by the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 1988 in In re Baby M,109 N.J. 396 (1988).   In that case, a couple hired a surrogate mother to give birth to their child, after which the surrogate mother claimed that the surrogacy contract was invalid and that her parental rights were improperly terminated, and the child improperly adopted by the biological father’s wife.   The Supreme Court in In re Baby M, invalidated the surrogacy contract and restored the surrogate mother’s biological rights.   This case was splayed out in the news at the time, but was ultimately still a dispute between biological parents.

It is still heartbreaking when there are disputes between biological and adoptive parents over custody of a child.  A recent unpublished decision of the Appellate Division in the case of In re Adoption of a Child by R.C.W. and S.M.W., A-2907-17 (App. Div. Aug. 7, 2018) has recently been in the news in New Jersey, though not with the same attention as the “Baby M” surrogacy case.   In this case, the biological mother of “Baby J” sought to set aside the adoption of her biological child by its adoptive parents.  The Appellate Division addressed the heartache head-on, writing “Few cases have so much potential for calamity.  The adopting parents could lose their only child, the child they have nurtured since birth, and in consequence suffer a lifetime of emotional pain and heartbreak. The birth mother could see her decision to surrender her child upheld, have her parental rights terminated, and in consequences suffer a lifetime of regret and sorrow.  The child could be abruptly removed from the only parents and home it has ever known, placed in the hands of a virtual stranger, and in consequence suffer permanent emotional damage.”  The Court’s statement acknowledges the weight and impact of the decision before it.

In this case, the 19 year old birth mother “Mya” was a full-time college student, with a part-time job, and living with her mother.  She had terminated two prior pregnancies at the request of her mother, and indicated that she was surprised by this pregnancy as she used birth control.  She did not tell her mother other family members about this pregnancy, fearing that she would lose the support of her mother.   Moreover, after she and her mother were evicted from their apartment and she came to live with her sister and her sister’s family, Mya did not feel that she would be financially able to care for the child, and expressed that she needed to finish college.  She told only a new boyfriend and a teacher/mentor about the pregnancy.

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For the third time since 2012, the New Jersey lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow persons to enter into gestational carrier agreements; namely for the intended parents to enter into a contract with a woman 21 years of age or older to become pregnant by assisted reproductive technology without the use of her own egg, and to surrender custody of the child to the intended parent immediately upon birth, and considered neither an adoption nor termination of parental rights, as long as the requirements of the statute are strictly adhered to. While two prior legislative attempts were vetoed by then Gov. Christie, it is expected that this Baby-M-movie-300x238current legislation (S482) will be signed by Gov. Murphy soon and become law. Many people continue to refer to the agreements covered by the statute as “surrogacy contracts”, and that they would in effect overturn the Supreme Court ruling in Matter of Baby M, 109 N.J. 396 (1988) which deemed such surrogacy contracts invalid. Continue reading

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TANGEL 13he jurisdiction of the Family Part of the New Jersey Superior Court to make orders determining custody is based upon the common law doctrine of parens patriae, which imposes upon the court an affirmative duty to protect the best interests of minor children. The members the New Jersey Judiciary that serve our State in making these decisions will tell you that these decisions are some of the most difficult they have faced in their professional careers and also some of the most rewarding. On December 15, 2015, the Supreme Court of New Jersey issued an opinion modifying and affirming the Appellate Division’s decision denying the appeal by the New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency in the case of New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency v. K.N. and K.E., 435 N.J. Super. 16 (App.Div. 2014), wherein the “Division” appealed from a June, 2013 order that awarded custody of T.E. (“Tommy”), the six-year-old son of K.N. (“Kara”) and T.E. (“Kevin”) to his maternal grandmother as a paid resource placement parents. Continue reading

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For more than three decades a debate has been waged in New Jersey on the adoption front over the extent to which adoptees can access their birth records and uncover information about their biological parents. In 1940, New Jersey began sealing adoption records.   In 1977, New Jersey allowed the records to be accessible by court order. N.J.S.A. 9:3-51.   Anti-abortion/pro-life activists advocated for birth records to be sealed because birth mothers who wished for anonymity might be more inclined to have an abortion if her privacy were not protected, or birth mothers might be more inclined to use New Jersey’s Safe Haven Infant Protection  law that allows a newborn who is less than thirty days old to be left legally and anonymously at a police station or hospital emergency room without having to give any identifying or health information about the birth mother.  Continue reading