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The importance of legal counsel for New Jersey adoptions

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

Starting a family can be one of the most exciting and joyful times in any parent’s life. Whether it happens biologically, with the help of a surrogate or through adoption, adding a child to a family is a life-changing event.

It is crucial in these times that parents-to-be understand what their parental rights are, especially when there are circumstances that require legal intervention. When people do not know what their rights are or misinterpret laws, they can end up facing serious challenges that can ultimately put a child’s well-being in jeopardy.

A recent case in another state highlights just one of the legal obstacles that parents might face when it comes to their rights as adoptive parents.

As an example this principle occurred recently. According to reports, in Tennessee, 9 year old Sonya was taken care by a couple since before she was age 2. Over the past 7 years, the husband and wife took care of and ultimately adopted Sonja after her father had been sentenced to prison for 15 years.

Laws in the state where this took place dictate that a parent who is incarcerated for 10 years will have his or her parental rights terminated as to a child under the age of 8. Therefore, the couple was permitted to adopt Sonya, who never had a relationship with her biological father. However, in this case, the biological father apparently made a deal that reduced his sentence to less than eight years which meant that his parental rights were not terminated due to his incarceration. The adoption was therefore reversed in 2009, and despite a hard-fought legal battle by the adoptive parents, the Tennessee Courts have ordered 9 year old Sonya to the care of her biological father, whom she did not know until recently.

Understandably, the adoptive parents were devastated and filed a claim to have the little girl returned to them, citing her best interests. Their application was denied and the child remains in Tennessee with her biological father, with the support of a Guardian ad Litem who reports the child to be adjusting well. The adoptive family reports that they will continue to fight for the return of Sonya to their family. The case is set for another review on June 18th.

These and other legal battles about parentage can arise when the rights of a biological parent clash with subsequent Orders or Agreements. In order to limit these situations and avoid potentially messy and devastating disputes, all parents should seriously consider speaking with an attorney familiar with adoption laws and parentage laws in New Jersey before coming to any sort of agreement or filing any sort of application. There may be a number of factors of which parents and prospective parents may not be aware that can dramatically affect their legal rights.

Source: CNN, “Adoptive parents fight for custody of 9-year-old Sonya,” Randi Kaye, May 20, 2014

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At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.