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New Jersey Adoption FAQS

By: ​Deena L. Betze, Esquire

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? New Jersey statutes, case law, and public policy all favor adoption and the best interests of the child, which is the standard by which New Jersey courts must base adoption decisions. New Jersey laws strive to promote finality of family arrangements for the child. The following are some frequently asked questions and answers about adoption based on New Jersey adoption law:

• Who can adopt a child?

In New Jersey, married couples are not the only ones who can adopt. Single adults, as well as same sex couples, may also adopt. There are no restrictions on who may adopt in New Jersey based upon gender, marital status, or sexual orientation. A married person cannot adopt a child alone unless the other spouse consents or is noticed and does not object.

• What is an “open” adoption and are those arrangements enforceable in New Jersey?

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 from case to case. A typical arrangement might involve the biological parents sending pictures and letters on regular intervals or, in some cases, even having visits with the child. Ultimately, the biological and adoptive parents reach an agreement on the nature, type, and frequency of contact with which they are comfortable. Currently, open adoptions are not recognized in this state. Therefore, while such arrangements are often made between adopting parents and birth parents, courts in New Jersey cannot enforce open adoption arrangements.

• What is a “surrender of parental rights?” Can a birth parent change her/his mind after signing one?

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, at least 72 hours after the birth of the child, or by a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey. Once a valid agency surrender has been signed, it is irrevocable. There is no further waiting period during which the surrendering, biological parent can change her or his mind. A biological parent can only contest a surrender in court if he/she is able to prove that it was obtained by fraud, duress or misrepresentation on the part of the adoption agency in taking the surrender.

• Must a birth-mother who is placing a child for adoption name or identify the birth-father?

No. A birth-mother wishing to place a child for adoption in New Jersey is not required to name or identify the birth-father. If a birth-mother refuses to name the birth-father and he cannot be identified, the adoption will proceed without notice to him.

• What if the birth-father is identified?

If any identifying information has been provided about the birth-father, the agency (or the attorney for the adoptive parents, if it is a private placement) must attempt to undertake a diligent inquiry to notify him of the potential adoption. However, a birth-father who is noticed of a potential adoption is charged with the responsibility to assert his parental rights or he may lose his ability to participate in or contest the adoption. If he does not either file for a paternity determination or seek to amend the birth certificate to add his name as the father within 120 days of the date of birth of the child, he will not be entitled to notice of the adoption proceedings.

• Who can contest an adoption?

A biological parent who has not signed a valid agency surrender can contest an adoption, but a birth father will only receive notice of the adoption proceedings if, within 120 days of the date of birth of the child he has acknowledged paternity by amending the birth certificate to add his name or has made an application to the court to assert his parental rights. In certain circumstances, a guardian or relative of the child may file an objection to the adoption, if that person has provided primary care and supervision for the child for six months or half of the child’s life, whichever is less, during the last two years. Under current New Jersey law, a birth-parent who is contesting an adoption is entitled to legal counsel, potentially pro bono (free of charge), because of the significant, constitutional rights that are at stake in an adoption proceeding.

It is of the utmost importance to make sure any adoption 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. Private placement (non-agency) adoptions are permitted in New Jersey as well, but different legal standards apply for their finalization. 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 upon the type of adoption and the nature of the placement.

When choosing an adoption attorney, you should assure that your attorney is experienced in adoptions and fully familiar with the laws and requirements to make the finalization of your adoption as seamless and joyful as possible.

Deena L. Betze Appointed to Board of Trustees of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Mercer/Burlington Counties, New Jersey

CHERRY HILL, NJ, April 20, 2016 – The law firm of Borger Matez is pleased to announce that Deena L. Betze, Esq. has been appointed to the Board of Directors of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Mercer and Burlington Counties, New Jersey. CASA “provides a voice for abused and neglected children by empowering a statewide network of county-based CASA programs. Working through community volunteers, these programs advocate on behalf of children in foster care and out-of-home placements to ensure their well-being and ultimate placement in safe and nurturing permanent homes.”

Ms. Betze, one of Southern New Jersey’s most widely respected family and matrimonial lawyers, is beloved by her clients and is known for making huge and positive changes in their lives. For over 24 years, she has represented men and women in divorce, mediation, custody, adoption (including agency, private placement, domestic, re-finalization of foreign adoptions and contested placements), domestic violence, pre-marital agreements, civil union agreements and other family law related matters. Ms. Betze is collaboratively trained, a mediator, and practices Collaborative Divorce. She is also a member of the South Jersey Collaborative Law Group and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. During the course of her career, Ms. Betze has been interviewed by radio, television, and print media about her expertise in adoption and family law matters. She is a member of the New Jersey State Bar Association, where she previously served on the Family Law Executive Committee, and serves on the Family Law Committees of the Camden County Bar Association, the Gloucester County Bar Association and the Burlington County Bar Association. Ms. Betze previously served as the President of the Thomas S. Forkin Family Law American Inn of Court, one of only 20 Inns nationwide to achieve the Platinum level of Excellence. American Inns of Court are “designed to improve the skills, civility, professionalism and ethics of the bench and bar.” An American Inn of Court is an amalgam of judges, lawyers, and in some cases, law professors and law students. She is also a past volunteer of the Cape Atlantic Legal Services pro bono program. A graduate of S.U.N.Y. StonyBrook (B.A. 1987), Ms. Betze received her law degree in 1990 from Rutgers University School of Law, Camden.

Borger Matez is one of Southern New Jersey’s top family law and divorce firms and is a leader in bringing Collaborative Divorce to the region. Located in Cherry Hill, NJ, Borger Matez, PA concentrates its practice in all aspects of divorce and family law, mediation, and Collaborative Divorce. For more information, call (856) 424- 3444 or visit http://www.njfamilylaw.net.

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Deena Betze ESQ. Bio

Deena Betze Guest Expert on Talk Show about Adoption

CHERRY HILL, NJ, July 22, 2013 – Deena L. Betze, Esq., one of South Jersey’s most respected family law attorneys, was recently interviewed on “Family Affairs,” a weekly radio show hosted by Roseann Vanella of Advanced Mediation Solutions and heard on WTER Radio. Ms. Betze discussed the law affecting both private and public adoptions in New Jersey. Audio of her interview can be found here.

Ms. Betze has been practicing Family and matrimonial law, including divorce, custody, adoption (including agency, private placement, domestic and re-finalization of foreign adoptions and contested placements), domestic violence, pre-marital agreements, civil union agreements and other family law related matters for over twenty years. She is a member of the New Jersey State Bar Association, Family Law Section, the Family Law Executive Committee of the Camden County Bar Association, and the Family Law Committee of the Gloucester County Bar Association. A graduate of S.U.N.Y Stonybrook (B.A. 1987), Ms. Betze received her law degree in 1990 from Rutgers University.

Borger Matez is one of Southern New Jersey’s leading family law and divorce firms and is a leader in bringing Collaborative Divorce to Southern New Jersey. Located in Cherry Hill, NJ, Borger Matez, P.A concentrates its practice in divorce, custody, parenting time (formerly called “visitation”), alimony, child support, equitable distribution of marital property and debt, post-divorce disputes (i.e., custody/parenting time, alimony and child support modification and enforcement), domestic violence, cases involving the NJ Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly DYFS), adoptions, and applications to relocate children from New Jersey incident to or after separation or divorce. The attorneys in the firm also regularly prepare and negotiate all types of pre-marital, cohabitation, same gender, and divorce-related settlement agreements. An extensive list of questions and answers which regularly are asked by family law clients can be found at their website. For more information, call (856) 424-3444 or visit http://www.njfamilylaw.net.

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Why adopt in New Jersey?

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:

  1. http://www.jointcouncil.org/
  2. http://www.goldencradle.org
  3. http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc607.html

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.