Articles Posted in Children In Court

In the matter of  New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. A.S.K. (A-50-17 ___ N.J. ___ (App. d744f80a269bdfa75c34d7830ed52c13-1-300x200Div. 2018), the New Jersey Supreme Court reviewed the trial court’s decision to terminate the parental rights of E.M.C. (“Eric”) to his son, A.E.C. (“Adam”) based on the record and the application of the best-interests-of-the-child test. Although the Supreme Court affirmed the decision to terminate Eric’s parental rights, the Court found that the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCPP”) made errors regarding the inability to locate Eric, which delayed the child from receiving permanency for an additional 2 1/2 years. The Supreme Court stated that DCPP’s processes would be enhanced by conducting a new search for a parent at each phase of litigation and implementing procedures that retain a party’s past contact information.

Termination of parental rights is warranted when DCPP establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the codified four prongs of the best-interests-of-the-child test are met. The four prongs of that test are: (1) “The child’s safety, health, or development has been or will continue to be endangered by the parental relationship;” (2) “the parent is unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm facing the child or is unable or unwilling to provide a safe and stable home for the child and the delay of permanent placement will add to the harm. Such harm may include evidence that separating the child from his resource family parents would cause serious and enduring emotional or psychological harm to the child;” (3) whether “[t]he [D]ivision has made reasonable efforts to provide services to help the parent correct the circumstances which led to the child’s placement outside the home and the court has considered alternatives to termination of parental rights;” and (4) whether “[t]ermination of parental rights will not do more harm than good.”

In this case, the child, Adam, was born on November 14, 2009 and he began living with Eric in March, 2012.  Before Adam came to live with him, Eric had last seen him in July 2011. Adam lived with Eric until July 2013. During that time, DCPP received referrals in April 2012 and September 2012. Eric cooperated with both investigations. Because Adam was residing with Eric, an allegation of abuse and neglect against Adam’s mother, A.K. (“Ali”) resulting from the April 2012 referral was deemed unsubstantiated.

In the published Appellate Division opinion in NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CHILD PROTECTION AND PERMANENCY v. P.O. and M.C.D. A-1871-16, (App. Div.  Oct. 30, 2018), the AppellateIMG_1930-1-300x225 Division addressed the 2011 emergency removal of two children, ages 7 and 2, from their undocumented immigrant parents. While the two children remained in resource homes, the parents were removed from the United States. The mother was prohibited from returning to the U.S. for 10 years and the father was prohibited from returning to the U.S. for 20 years. In 2013, the parents appeared by telephone, represented by counsel, and entered into an identified voluntary surrender of their parental rights to a family they had identified to the Division as a potential resource placement. Both of the parents confirmed that in the event the family whom they identified for resource placement did not adopt their children, then  their parental rights would be reinstated and litigation would be reopened. Ten months later, the trial court ruled against moving the children to the family identified as a potential resource placement. Without notice to the parents, the trial court vacated the identified voluntary surrenders, reinstated the biological parents’ parental rights and reopened the guardianship litigation. Thereafter, the father was provided with services needed for reunification with the children.  The mother could not be provided with reunification services because she could not be located.  She failed to keep in contact with the Division after leaving the U.S.   She ultimately resumed living with the children’s father, but both parents were inconsistent in maintaining contact with the Division.

Neither of the children speak Spanish. One of the children had a language disorder that would make it difficult for him to learn Spanish if he were sent to live with his parents. Additionally, the children had bonded with the resource parents and wanted to be adopted by them. The trial court found that termination of parental rights was in the best interest of the children.

The parents appealed the trial court’s decision, arguing that their due process rights were violated because they did not receive notice of the pending dissolution of the identified surrender and because many of the hearings that were before the termination trial and were not held on the record. Even though the parties did not raise these arguments in the trial court, the Appellate Division agreed that the parties should have been notified before the identified surrender judgment was vacated. More importantly, the Appellate Division stated that every proceeding should have been placed on the record even when the parents were in agreement with the provisions of the order being entered. All Children In Court proceedings resulting in orders should be on the record. Particularly when the parents, who have not unconditionally abandoned their rights, are not parties to the proceedings. Nevertheless, the failure to do so in this case was not fatal because the parents rights were restored and they were parties to a full trial on the merits.