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What Does It Mean to Terminate Your Parental Rights?

Colorful drawing: Representation of marriage break up or divorce.

Parents have the right to the custody and care of their children. Biological mothers and their spouses are guaranteed legal parentage automatically, while unwed fathers may need to take certain additional steps to establish paternity and legal parentage. Under certain circumstances, however, parental rights can be terminated. Read on below to learn about how the termination of parental rights works and when it can happen. If you are facing termination of parental rights or other child custody issues, call a dedicated New Jersey parental rights lawyer for advice and assistance.

What is the Termination of Parental Rights?

Parents have many rights concerning their children that are protected by federal and state constitutions and statutes. Parents have the right to, for example, make medical decisions regarding their children, give consent with regard to certain activities involving their children, make decisions about their child’s education and religious upbringing, etc. Parents have a general right to raise their children without interference from the government, with limited exceptions.

Parental rights are not, however, absolute. The State has an interest in protecting the health and safety of children, who are unable to protect themselves. Termination of parental rights (TPR) is a legal process by which a court will strip the parent or parents of a child of all legal rights about a child or children. A parent who loses their parental rights will no longer have any legal say in the child’s upbringing, medical decisions, etc. The child may be left in the custody of their other parent, with a family member, or with a court-appointed guardian.

When Can Parental Rights be Terminated?

The New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (CP&P) is the state agency tasked with protecting children. If the CP&P receives word that a child may be in danger, they will investigate to determine whether a child’s health and safety are indeed endangered. A CP&P investigation may be triggered by a police referral or a complaint from a family member or someone else concerned for the welfare of a child.

Parentage is a fundamental right guaranteed by federal and state law. Courts do not take the termination of parental rights lightly. To that end, parental rights will only be terminated when the CP&P can demonstrate that termination is in the best interests of the child. With regard to termination due to child endangerment, the court will consider whether CP&P has demonstrated the following:

  • The child’s health, safety, or development has been or will be endangered by continuing the parental relationship
  • The parent is not willing or is not able to eliminate the harm facing the child, or is unwilling or unable to provide a safe and stable home for the child, and delay of permanent placement will cause the child more harm
  • CP&P has made reasonable efforts to offer services to help the parent correct the circumstances creating the danger for the child and resulting in the child’s placement outside of the home, and the court has considered alternatives to termination of parental rights
  • The termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good for the child

The court may terminate parental rights for several other specific reasons as well, including in cases where the child was abandoned, the parents cannot be found, the parent is incarcerated for a long period of time, the parent is incarcerated for an especially vicious or heinous crime, or termination is necessary to serve the child’s psychological, medical, emotional, physical, or educational needs.

When a parent’s rights are facing termination, the court’s primary concern is the best interests of the child. The court will consider a number of relevant factors to determine whether a temporary placement would better serve the child, or whether termination of parental rights is necessary to protect the health and safety of the child. In addition to the elements discussed above, the court will consider factors such as the child’s age, level of maturity, developmental level, familial relationships, and other factors. Parents have the right to contest the CP&P’s efforts, including through compliance with court orders to render the home safer for the child (by, for example, undergoing substance abuse treatment).

Call a Dedicated New Jersey Child Custody and Parental Rights Attorney Today

If you’re considering divorce or facing issues involving paternity, parental rights, child custody, equitable division of property, alimony/spousal support, child support, or other family law issues in New Jersey, contact the experienced and trial-ready Union family law attorney John B. D’Alessandro for a consultation.

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