For thousands of children in New Jersey, their grandparents are their primary caregivers and sources of parental love and attention. Many children first enter the custody of their grandparents after the children were removed from their parents’ homes by the New Jersey DCP&P due to abandonment, abuse, or neglect. In other situations, the grandparents may have taken in the children as an internal response within the family to a crisis, an addiction, or a parent’s inability to provide or care for his or her kids.
Grandparents Providing Family Foster Care
In many cases, grandparents first become responsible for their grandchildren when the kids are placed with them temporarily as a foster placement. The New Jersey DCP&P sees foster care as a situation that leads to reunification with the parents or, alternately, kinship legal guardianship or adoption by the foster parents. Family members like grandparents are strongly preferred as foster parents because they are already known and trusted by the children and have shown themselves to be committed to providing a safe, loving environment for the kids.
In order to be formally designated as foster parents, grandparents must go through a home inspection and background checks in order to be licensed as resource parents by the DCP&P. While foster parents, including family foster parents like grandparents, have the right to make decisions for the children in their care, they’re still subject to ongoing oversight and intervention by the agency.
Kinship Care, Adoption, and Other Options
Once a grandparent’s custody of the children becomes a long-term situation, it can be important for the kids to make the arrangement more formal and lasting. There are several ways to formalize a grandparent’s custody over the grandchildren.
Many grandparents in New Jersey may petition to be appointed kinship legal guardians. In this case, the birth parents of the children retain rights, including the right to visitation, and responsibilities such as paying child support. A grandparent appointed by the court as a kinship legal guardian can be eligible for state subsidies and has the right to make decisions for the child without oversight by state agencies.
Other grandparents may seek to pursue adoption. When a grandparent adopts a child, the birth parents transfer all of their parental rights and responsibilities to the grandparent. Adoption is a more final and permanent solution to an ongoing family situation in which grandparents are a child’s primary caregivers without positive involvement from the birth parents.
Grandparent Adoption and Birth Parents’ Rights
When considering a grandparent adoption, it can be important to consult with our NJ adoption attorney. Under state law, a child can only have two legal parents. While people who are not the legal parents can have rights and responsibilities to the children as foster parents or kinship legal guardians, these rights don’t eliminate or undermine those of the legal parents.
An adoption can only proceed in certain circumstances. Either:
- The birth parents voluntarily terminate their parental rights, or
- The birth parents’ rights are legally terminated in court.
Because family reunification and the parent-child bond are a priority, termination of a birth parent’s legal rights is a serious action not taken lightly in court. Parental rights can be terminated if a parent is deemed unfit, especially following abuse or abandonment of a child. There are several factors that can be considered significant enough to lead to termination of parental rights, including sexual abuse of the child, causing serious physical or emotional harm to the child, failing to care for the child, using excessive physical punishment against the child, or abandoning the child.
The grandparents can pursue the full adoption process after the birth parents’ parental rights have been terminated by the court or they’ve voluntarily agreed to give up their rights to the children. Once this has happened, the grandparents will assume the full rights and responsibilities over the child, and the birth parents are no longer expected to provide support or entitled to see the child without the adoptive parents’ permission.
Contact Our New Jersey Adoption Attorney
For grandparents considering adopting the grandchild or grandchildren in their custody, there are many factors to consider when pursuing this permanent option. Our New Jersey adoption attorney can consult and work with grandparents caring for their grandchildren to provide detailed information and representation when moving forward with the adoption process. Grandparents can contact our NJ adoption lawyer, Donald C. Cofsky, in Haddonfield, New Jersey, at 856-429-5005 for advice and guidance on the next steps toward adoption.