A New Jersey Adoption Attorney Can Help You
Many couples dream of adopting a child. There are many different types of adoptions in New Jersey. In 2012, 1,023 children were adopted from foster care. Some adoption cases are stepparent adoptions in which the adopting parent has already formed a relationship with the child. The legal process for an adoption is similar whether the adoption is for a stepchild or if the adoption involves an agency.
In many cases, the biological parent consents to the adoption. In a case that involves an agency, the parent may have been contemplating the prospect of adoption for a long time but may still change his or her mind after the birth of the child. In a stepparent adoption, a biological parent may revoke his or her consent or appeal the adoption decree if he or she does so within the time frame required by law.
How Does Consent to Adoption Work in New Jersey?
In some cases, a biological parent may sign a consent form allowing his or her parental rights to be terminated and for an adoption case to proceed without further notice to him or her. However, even after the consent forms are signed, the parent may be able to revoke his or her consent before the final decree is entered.
A parent may argue that the consent is invalid because the paperwork was signed on the basis of fraud, duress, or coercion. For example, if the parent was given the paperwork to sign but wasn’t allowed sufficient time to read it or was told that the purpose of his or her signature was different than consent to an adoption, he or she may be able to argue that they didn’t understand what they were signing and weren’t given a meaningful opportunity to consider it. If he or she was ordered to sign the paperwork pursuant to a threat of bodily injury to himself or herself or another person, then this is another reason that the consent could be declared invalid. For example, if a person threatened to harm the child if the parent didn’t sign a consent form, then the biological parent may be able to argue that he or she signed it due to duress, threats, or coercion.
What Can I Expect in a Contested Adoption Hearing?
In some cases, the natural parent of a child is unfit to care for the child but will not consent to an adoption. The petitioner who wants the adoption to go forward will need to present proof to the court that the parent is unfit and that his or her rights should be terminated. The petitioner will also need to prove that the adoption is in the child’s best interests. A court will consider factors related to the parent’s relationship with the child, such as how often the parent has had contact with the child, whether or not he or she has provided child support, and other factors related to the parent’s fitness to raise the child. If the child is old enough to testify about his or her wishes to be adopted, then a judge may wish to hear from the child.
What if an Adoption is Appealed?
If a biological parent opposes an adoption and thinks the court made the wrong decision, he or she may file an appeal. If a petition for adoption is denied, then a petitioner may also file an appeal to ask a court of appeals to reconsider the issues decided by the trial court. There’s only a limited amount of time to file an appeal after a final decree is entered, and only a party to the case may file an appeal. A court of appeals will generally only consider information that was presented at the trial court level and usually will not overturn a judge’s decision made below unless there was a clear error. To file an appeal, a notice of appeal must be filed at the trial court level and a transcript must be ordered from the court reporter.
Judges are often reluctant to terminate parental rights unless there’s clear evidence that it’s in the child’s best interests, such as abandonment, abuse, neglect, or severe and recurring substance abuse issues. A petitioner who’s going to court for a contested adoption case should expect to present as much testimony as possible through witnesses and other evidence that the adoption is in the child’s best interests.
What Should I Do if I Have Questions About Adoption in New Jersey?
If you have questions about adoption, then contact Cofsky & Zeidman and speak with a New Jersey adoption attorney. Our adoption attorney can help guide you through the process and explain what you can expect at each stage of the proceeding. Contact our office today by calling (856)429-5005 to schedule a consultation.