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Adoption

In New Jersey married couples, civil union partners, and single individuals are permitted to adopt children.  Prospective adoptive parents who do not reside in New Jersey are permitted to adopt in this state if they are working with an approved agency in New Jersey.  Those who reside in New Jersey can also adopt a child born in another state if certain interstate requirements are properly met.  Several different types of adoption are recognized by New Jersey law: (1) agency adoptions, in which the child is placed with the prospective adoptive parent(s) by an agency approved by the State of New Jersey,  (2) private placement adoptions, in which the child is directly placed with the adoptive parent(s) by a birth parent (though agency supervision is then required), (3) re-finalizing foreign (international) adoptions, (4) relative adoptions,  and (5) step-parent adoptions.  All adoptions in New Jersey must be finalized by the Superior Court of New Jersey.  Upon finalization of an adoption in New Jersey, adoption records are sealed and a new birth certificate is issued with the adoptive parent(s) named as the parent(s) of the child.

AGENCY ADOPTIONS

When adoptive parents seek to adopt a child through an approved agency  the child is placed with the adoptive parents by the agency.  In such circumstances, the agency will have the birth mother, and sometimes the birth father, sign a surrender of parental rights at least 72 hours after the birth of the child. That surrender is binding upon the birth parents and cannot be attacked absent a showing of fraud, duress or undue influence on the part of the agency in taking the surrender. As a result, a birth parent who has signed an agency surrender is not entitled to notice of the adoption proceedings in court. This makes New Jersey a very attractive place for families to adopt, as there are no lengthy waiting periods during which the birth parents may come back and disrupt the placement.  The preliminary and final hearing is generally handled at one time in an agency adoption.

PRIVATE ADOPTIONS

In a private placement adoption, a child is placed with the prospective adoptive parent(s) directly by the birth parent(s) rather than through an approved agency.  However, a home study and post-placement supervision by an approved agency is still required, and an agency will be assigned by the court at a preliminary hearing. In a private adoption, the birth parent(s) may consent to the adoption but do not sign surrenders, which can only be executed through an approved agency. That means that while the consents submitted to the court will be considered as evidence of the birth parents’ intention to give up their parental rights, they are not binding upon them or the court. In a private placement adoption, therefore, the birth parents must be notified of the proceeding and afforded the opportunity to appear at the final hearing and contest the adoption. Their parental rights are not terminated until the final hearing, unless a separate termination proceeding is conducted prior to that.  In addition, the birth parents are entitled to counseling, legal representation and have other rights that must be protected and properly documented throughout the adoption process. The best way to assure these legal standards are met is to work with an experienced adoption attorney at BorgerMatez to finalize the adoption of your child.

OPEN ADOPTIONS

Agency and private adoptions can be “open” (by agreement only), in which the adoptive family maintains some agreed-upon level of contact with the birth parent or birth family, or “closed”, in which there is no contact between the adoptive and birth families following finalization. New Jersey courts do not currently have the authority to enforce or recognize open adoptions.

FOREIGN ADOPTIONS

Parents who reside in New Jersey and adopt a child from a foreign country may want to re-finalize the adoption in New Jersey for a variety of reasons. Often, they feel it is an easier path to obtaining a New Jersey birth certificate for their child, though re-finalization is not required in order to obtain a New Jersey birth certificate. Depending upon the adoption procedure utilized in the foreign country, how the child entered this country and other factors, re-adopting in the United States may be a path to citizenship for the child if it was not already obtained. Sometimes, adoptive parents simply feel that obtaining a judgment of adoption in New Jersey in addition to the adoption decree obtained in the foreign country provides an additional level of protection and finality. In any case, this is usually an abbreviated process that does not require the adoptive parents to obtain an additional home study and usually involves only one post-placement supervisory report.

STEP-PARENT OR RELATIVE ADOPTIONS

Often a step-parent or another relative may seek to adopt a child. The prospective adoptive parent (step-parent) or other relative must file a petition for adoption. While clearances and background checks for the prospective adoptive parent(s) and other adult household members are still required in a step-parent or relative adoption, the court in New Jersey has the discretion to dispense with the home study and post-placement supervision, and require only a limited investigation. Uncontested relative or step-parent adoptions are usually a more streamlined process, but there are still timelines and procedures which must be strictly followed.

CONTESTED ADOPTIONS

Sometimes, an adoption placement becomes contested, usually by a biological parent. Objections to an adoption by persons entitled to notice of the proceeding are governed by specific rules and deadlines. The standard of decision for New Jersey courts in a contested adoption is the best interest of the child. If the court finds that the contesting birth parent has failed to exercise the normal parental functions of care and support of the child, remains unable to do so and that inability is unlikely to change in the immediate future, a judgment of adoption will be entered over their objection. The law in this area is complex and varies considerably from state to state. New Jersey law is rooted in this state’s public policy of providing finality of familial relationships for children and safeguarding the needs and rights of children in need of the protection of the court. This is one reason New Jersey is considered an “adoption friendly” state.

The legal process of adoption can be complicated. There are specific time restrictions that must be adhered to, legal requirements that must be fulfilled, and clearances that must be obtained in order to finalize an adoption. BorgerMatez handles all types of adoptions recognized by New Jersey law, as well as contested adoptions, and can assist you in navigating the steps necessary to finalize the adoption of your child.

Marital Settlement Agreements

Statistics show that less than 2% of all divorces filed in New Jersey actually go to trial.  98%+ divorce cases settle prior to trial.  That means that 98%+ of divorcing couples enter into and sign a marital settlement agreement (a.k.a. property settlement agreement).  In most cases, divorcing spouses resolve the issues in dispute through mediation, the collaborative divorce process, through the traditional litigation model before trial, negotiation between attorneys, and sometimes with the assistance of the court.  Many cases settle at or after the Early Settlement Panel (ESP).  When spouses settle their disputes, they enter into a formal, written, marital settlement agreement (MSA) which they sign.  These agreements are typically drafted and reviewed by attorneys and become a part of the final judgment of divorce which are enforceable as if they were court orders.

Grandparents

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Traditional Litigation

In those cases in which mediation, collaborative divorce, or other alternative means of dispute resolution are not viable alternatives, spouses will litigate their divorce in the traditional manner. Typically, each will retain a lawyer to represent him/her and communication will occur between the attorneys by letter, phone or e-mail.  One spouse must file a complaint for divorce with the court and the other has various options for responding.  The court will then enter a case management order directing how the parties are to exchange discovery (information and documentation), and scheduling the Early Settlement Panel, pre-trial conference dates and trial dates (in some counties).  Before or during the period of discovery, the spouses may also engage in “motion practice,” wherein one party may file an application (a notice of motion) with the court seeking specific relief.  The most common types of motions are for pendente lite (pending litigation) relief, wherein a party seeks a temporary order to be set during the course of the litigation until a final determination is made or there is a settlement agreed upon.  Often a spouse will file a pendente lite motion for temporary support or a temporary custody and parenting-time arrangement. After all discovery is exchanged between the spouses, they will be required to attend the Early Settlement Panel (ESP).  The attorneys will submit memoranda to the panelists prior to the ESP date.  The panelists (two experienced family law attorneys) will review the memos prior to the ESP and meet with the attorneys only on the date of the ESP.  After they have discussed the case and the attorneys have presented their arguments and positions, the panelists confer privately, then bring the attorneys back into the ESP room to deliver their recommendations as to how they believe the case should be resolved.  The attorneys then meet with their individual clients to discuss the recommendations. If one or both parties do not accept the recommendations, the judge will schedule the case for trial.  In some counties, after the ESP, the court will order the parties to attend post-ESP mandatory economic mediation.  Eventually, if the case is not resolved through mediation or negotiation, the case will be tried to conclusion and a judgment rendered by the judge. Litigation is generally extremely costly.   The goal of the court is to have a case tried to conclusion and a judgment of divorce entered within one year of the date that the complaint was filed.

What is a surrender of parental rights? Can a birth parent change his/her mind after signing a valid surrender?

A surrender of parental rights is a signed consent to place a child for adoption and surrender of all parental rights by a biological parent. It can only be taken by an adoption agency, approved by the state of NJ, at least 72 hours after the birth of the child. Once a valid, agency surrender has been signed, it is irrevocable. A biological parent can only contest a surrender in court if he/she is able to prove fraud, duress or misrepresentation on the part of the adoption agency in the manner in which the surrender was obtained in taking the surrender.

What is the difference between an “open” and “closed” adoption?

An “open” adoption is one in which there is some level of contact between the adoptive parents and the biological parents both before and following the adoption. The level of contact varies. A typical arrangement might involve sending pictures back and forth or letters on regular intervals, or in some cases, even having visits. Ultimately, it is up to the adoptive parent how much contact will be allowed. In a “closed” adoption, there is no contact between the adoptive and biological families.

Relocation from NJ with Children

Under New Jersey law, a parent cannot remove children (born in New Jersey or who have lived here for at least five years) from the State of New Jersey permanently without the other parent’s consent or a court order.  This is typically called “relocation” or “removal.” If the other parent refuses to consent to the relocation, the parent seeking to relocate must make an application to the court (a motion) seeking permission to relocate with the children.  If he/she can show a good faith basis for the move and that it would not be “inimical to the best interests of the children,” the court will generally order a plenary hearing (trial) on the issues.  The law relating to relocation is set forth in N.J.S.A. 9:2-2   and the seminal case relating to relocation is Bauers v. Lewis, 167 N.J. 91 (2001).  Our firm has handled and defended many such relocation issues and applications over the years.

Custody and Parenting Time

There are two types of custody typically addressed when parents separate or divorce; legal and physical/residential custody.  Legal custody generally relates to decision making as to the children’s health, education, safety, welfare and sometimes religious upbringing.  Physical or residential custody relates to the issue of with which parent the children will primarily reside and how much time and when they will spend with the other parent in his/her home, or possibly a true, shared 50/50 parenting plan.  Most parents have joint legal custody of their children, however, that does require that the parents are able to have some communication and the ability to consult and confer with each other regarding the children. The court is required by law to determine what custodial arrangement is in the best interests of each child.  Parents who cannot agree on a custody arrangement are required to attend custody mediation with a court approved mediator, which is generally provided by the court at no cost to the parents.  If the parents are not able to come to an agreement as to custody, the court may appoint a custody evaluator, a psychologist who will conduct psychological evaluations of the parents, possibly also of the children depending on their ages, meet with the parents and the children, and who will write an evaluation report with a recommendation.  Such evaluations are often very expensive.  Prolonged custody battles are generally detrimental to the children. It is best for the children to have as much contact as possible with both parents.  The current trend in the law, and in the court system, is to allow both parents as much access to the children as possible, unless there are serious issues relating to the mental health of one of the parents, proven allegations of abuse or neglect, domestic violence, or proven drug or alcohol abuse by a parent.

Adoptions – Who can adopt a child?

In NJ, unlike some other states, married couples are not the only ones who can adopt. Single adults, as well as gay and lesbian couples, can also adopt. A married person cannot adopt a child alone unless the other spouse gives permission.

Restraining Orders

Such an order, while not guaranteeing a person’s safety from another, does provide a remedy when another person refuses to respect boundaries. If you are a victim of physical abuse or have been verbally assaulted, you should call the police immediately. Once you are safe, please contact an experienced attorney in our offices at BorgerMatez to assist you.