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Family and Relationships

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Home Page > Family and Relationships > Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) > Termination of Parental Rights: A Handbook for Parents

A. Introduction


Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ) coordinates the statewide Legal Services system in New Jersey, providing free legal assistance to lower-income people in civil matters. Part of Legal Services’ mission is to make people more aware of their legal rights and provide helpful information if they choose to pursue a legal case on their own. Awareness may help you resolve some problems on your own, without the need for a lawyer, or to make better use of a lawyer if you have one.

Important notes about using this handbook

Legal Services of New Jersey makes this publication available for use by people who cannot afford legal advice or representation. It may not be sold or used commercially by others. You may copy this publication for personal or educational use only. Copies may not be modified and must retain the information identifying Legal Services of New Jersey and the date the materials were produced.

This handbook gives you general information about termination of parental rights. Only a lawyer can give you specific advice about your case and help you protect all of your rights. By providing this information, we are not acting as your lawyer. Always talk to a lawyer, if you can, before taking legal action.

The information in this handbook is accurate as of August 2011, but laws often change. Please check this article again for updates to this handbook, or talk to a lawyer for up-to-date legal advice.

LSNJ wrote this handbook to help parents when the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) takes legal action to terminate (end) their rights to their children. This handbook contains information about the law and legal process that apply to you as a defendant parent being sued by DYFS in a termination of parental rights case. If DYFS is trying to end your parental rights to your child, reading and becoming familiar with the information discussed in this handbook may be useful to you. In addition, you may use the handbook as a reference, by finding specific topics and searching the glossary for a definition of terms mentioned here.

Every termination of parental rights case is different

Every termination of parental rights case is different. Each case involves specific, individual circumstances. The facts of your case may not match the situation the handbook assumes. For example, the handbook is written as if your termination of parental rights case concerns only one child, although DYFS often seeks to terminate parental rights to more than one child in the same case. For the most part, the handbook is written as if you were the custodial parent of the child (the parent who lives with the child most of the time), although that may not be your situation. DYFS routinely names both parents, including non-custodial parents or parents who have never lived with their children, as defendants in termination of parental rights cases.

Legal Services Family Representation Project

Through the statewide Family Representation Project (FRP), Legal Services of New Jersey lawyers who are specialists in child welfare law provide advice and sometimes extended representation to low-income parents in matters involving DYFS. If you would like to apply to get advice or to have a Legal Services lawyer represent you, call LSNJ-LAW™, Legal Services of New Jersey’s statewide, toll-free legal hotline, at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529). Hotline hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. If you are not eligible for assistance from Legal Services, the hotline will refer you to other possible resources.


Legal Services of New Jersey received a federal Court Improvement Grant to fund the printing of this handbook. Mary M. McManus-Smith, LSNJ chief counsel for family law, made revisions for this edition of the handbook, originally written by former LSNJ attorneys Nancy Goldhill and Beatrix Shear. Contributions to this handbook have been made by Jeyanthi Rajaraman, LSNJ supervising attorney; Diana Dunker, former LSNJ supervising attorney; and Patricia Myers, LSNJ supervising social worker. Special thanks to the following people for their assistance with this handbook: T. Gary Mitchell, director of litigation at the Office of Parental Representation; Deborah Fennelly, LSNJ senior attorney; Alyce Garver, LSNJ assistant publications director; and Tricia Simpson-Curtin, LSNJ writer/editor. Susan Perger, LSNJ publications director, handled the editing, design, layout, and production.

Comments and suggestions

We hope that this handbook will be helpful to you. Please let us know if you have comments or suggestions that we might use in future editions. You can write to us or e-mail us at:

Legal Services of New Jersey
Publications Department
P.O. Box 1357
Edison, NJ 08818-1357

Melville D. Miller, Jr., President
Legal Services of New Jersey
Edison, New Jersey
August 2011

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Copyright © 2011 Legal Services of New Jersey

This information last reviewed 10/28/11


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Low-income New Jerseyans can get free legal help by phone: call our toll-free hotline at 1-888-LSNJ-LAW (1-888-576-5529), Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Outside of New Jersey, please call 732-572-9100 and ask to be transferred to the hotline.