On Dec. 21, the state Supreme Court in New Jersey announced that it will hear a case in April 2016 concerning a woman whose child was placed with a foster family and kept there due to the woman’s poverty. The child has special needs, and in 2012, the woman took her daughter to the Children’s Home Society of New Jersey. She had intended for the child to have short-term foster care after several years of living with relatives and in homeless shelters.
Because the woman did not visit the child regularly, after a year, the Children’s Home Society suggested that the foster family move to terminate parental rights. Although the woman was not found unfit to care for the child in any way, a judge still terminated those rights. An attorney began pro bono representation of the mother partway through her appeal, and in October, she was granted visitation rights. The court also said that all parents in a similar situation had a right to legal representation.
However, the state Supreme Court has now suspended those visitation rights and said a judge should determine the psychological effect on the child of having her mother visit after such a long time. The court’s decision in April will probably set the law going forward.
Family law and custody cases can be complex, and this case might have repercussions for couples who are divorcing as well. While courts usually make an effort to keep children with their biological parents, if this court rules that a parent can lose their parental rights even without accusations of abuse or neglect, it might be an indication that this will be less of a priority. Parents who are concerned about keeping access to their children during a separation or divorce may wish to speak to an attorney.