The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) is the child protection agency in New Jersey. Under the law, there are two ways for DYFS to remove a child from his or her parents. DYFS can file a court action against the parents, or the parents may sign an agreement, called a voluntary placement agreement, to place the child with DYFS.
If you signed a voluntary placement agreement, DYFS probably got a court order, without filing a complaint or having a trial, approving that placement under a law called The Child Placement Review Act.
If you did not sign a voluntary placement agreement, DYFS had to file a complaint claiming child abuse or neglect to get a court order for custody and “care and supervision” of your child at the time it removed your child from you.
In a child abuse or neglect court action, the judge must decide whether you abused or neglected your child. You may have stipulated (agreed) to facts upon which the judge based a finding of abuse or neglect against you, or you may have had a fact-finding trial that resulted in a court judgment finding that you abused or neglected your child.
In rare cases, DYFS is allowed to file a complaint in court to terminate parents’ rights without first getting either a voluntary consent agreement or a court judgment finding that you abused or neglected your child.
When your child was removed from you, DYFS probably tried to reunify your child with you. In most cases, DYFS is supposed to first try to work with parents to solve the problems that prevent parents from caring for their children. This is called making “reasonable efforts” to avoid removing the child from your home. DYFS must also make reasonable efforts to return the child to your home. If a parent needs substance abuse rehabilitation, therapy or counseling, a home health aide, day care, or other services to be able to provide a safe home for his or her children, DYFS is supposed to help the parent get those things.
In some instances, DYFS may have successfully convinced the court that it should not be required to make reasonable efforts to help a parent. This can happen to a parent who has been found by a court to have committed or tried to commit a serious crime against one of his or her children, to a parent whose rights to another of his or her children were terminated involuntarily, and to a parent in certain other unusual situations.
DYFS decided to try to terminate parental rights
At some point, DYFS made a decision to try to terminate your parental rights. You may have attended a permanency hearing, at which DYFS presented its plan to terminate your parental rights. Permanency hearings must be held no later than 12 months after your child has been placed in the care of someone else. In situations where the court determines that DYFS does not have to make reasonable efforts to reunify you and your child, the permanency hearing must be held within 30 days of that determination. Once DYFS decides not to reunify your family, it is required to make plans for your child to have a permanent home with the child’s current caretakers or with someone else.
A child whose parents are living cannot be adopted unless the parental rights of both the child’s birth mother and birth father have been terminated. If DYFS cannot find one of the child’s parents (commonly the father), it can still terminate that parent’s rights if it can prove to the court that it tried to identify and find the parent, but was unable to do so.
DYFS uses the term foster home adoption or resource parent adoption to describe its plan for a child to be adopted by his or her current caretakers. It uses the term select home adoption to describe its plan to find others to adopt your child.
In most cases, DYFS is required by law to file an action to terminate parental rights after a child has been in foster care for 15 months. There are exceptions to this requirement if:
- Your child is living with a relative and a permanent plan for the child may be achieved without termination of parental rights;
- DYFS has written in your case plan a good reason why termination of parental rights is not in the best interests of your child; or
- DYFS believes that, to be a safe parent, you need certain help that it has not provided for you.
DYFS filed a complaint for guardianship and termination of parental rights
The complaint that DYFS has filed against you for termination of parental rights is also called a guardianship complaint because DYFS will be awarded guardianship of your child if your parental rights are terminated. This complaint is a very important document. It explains why DYFS is trying to end your parental rights. To do so, DYFS must prove that the things it says about you in the complaint are true. The court then decides if the proof justifies terminating your parental rights under New Jersey law.
The termination of parental rights case filed against you can only be used to terminate your rights to the child or children named in the complaint. If you have other children who are not named in the complaint, the court cannot terminate your rights to those children through this court action. DYFS can, however, ask the court’s permission to add their names to the complaint.
DYFS is required to serve the complaint on you. To serve you means that DYFS must give you a copy of it. In addition, DYFS is required to serve you with a copy of a special order, called an order to show cause (OTSC). When DYFS filed its termination of parental rights complaint against you, it also filed a request that the judge sign an OTSC. An OTSC is a court order that tells you that you must appear in court on a specific date so that the judge can consider and decide your case as soon as possible. It is used in place of a summons. The date for you to appear in court is called the return date. It is very important that you appear in court at the time and date described. If you do not go to court, the court will not consider your response to the complaint and will consider only the claims of DYFS before it enters its order.
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Copyright © 2011 Legal Services of New Jersey
This information last reviewed 10/28/11