By Deena Betze, Esq.
New Jersey is known nationally as an “adoption friendly” state. Families from all over the country come to New Jersey adoption agencies to place and adopt their children in this state. Why is New Jersey considered one of the best places to adopt? New Jersey statutes, case law and public policy all favor adoption and the best interests of the child. The best interest of the child is the standard by which New Jersey courts must base all adoption decisions. Thus, New Jersey laws strive to promote finality of family arrangements for the child being placed for adoption.
That policy translates to a more “user friendly” and streamlined process for prospective adoptive parents. In New Jersey, if a birth mother signs a surrender of her parental rights from an approved agency at least 72 hours after the birth of the child, that surrender of parental rights and consent to adoption is irrevocable. There is no waiting period during which she could change her mind. The only way to contest an agency surrender is to prove duress, misrepresentation or fraud on the part of the agency in taking the surrender. State approved agencies are under the strict supervision of the state and are closely regulated and monitored. Of course, it is always important to make sure the agency you are working with is licensed, state approved and in good standing. If you are adopting internationally, you should know whether the agency you are working with is Hague accredited.
In addition, birth mothers in New Jersey are not required to name or identify the birth father. The adoption agency must attempt to undertake a diligent inquiry to identify and notify the biological father, unless they cannot because the birth mother refuses or is unable to identify him. If an identified birth father is notified of the proposed adoption and does not respond to the agency’s notification, or if the agency is unable to identify or locate a birth father, the birth father has an affirmative obligation to assert his parental rights; if he fails to assert his rights, he will lose his opportunity to contest the adoption. If, within 120 days of the birth of the child, the biological father does not seek to amend the birth certificate to add his name, or attempt to establish his paternity by filing a complaint with the Surrogate’s Office, he will not receive any further notice of the adoption proceedings. In those circumstances, when the complaint for adoption is filed by the adoptive parents, they are not required to serve the birth father. In other words, if the biological father does not take specific steps to assert his parental rights within the first four months of the child’s life, his parental rights may be terminated without his participation in the adoption proceedings. In many cases like that, it is no longer necessary to pursue separate termination proceedings against the biological father, which are still required in many states.
Finally, while there are still many states which discriminate against parents wishing to adopt based upon marital status or sexual orientation, no such discrimination exists in New Jersey. There are no restrictions on who may adopt in New Jersey based upon gender, marital status, or sexual orientation. In New Jersey, not only can married couples adopt children, but also gay and lesbian couples, as well as single parents.
An attorney’s role in New Jersey really does not begin until after a child has been placed for adoption, at which time, certain statutory requirements and timelines must be met before the adoption complaint can be filed. These requirements differ depending on whether the child was placed through an approved agency or through a private placement. They will be detailed in a future article. If you are interested in learning more about agency adoptions in New Jersey, here are some helpful links:
New Jersey is an adoption friendly state, with adoption laws that focus on the best interests of the child, open to all adults interested in adopting children born in any state or in some foreign countries.