Best interests of the child: The most common legal basis for terminating parental rights, where DYFS must prove a number of reasons why it is best that your parental rights be ended.
Chambers: The judge’s office.
Child Placement Review Board (CPRB): A volunteer group of community members, acting on the court’s behalf, that makes recommendations to the court about children who are in DYFS custody and have been placed outside of their homes.
Clear and convincing evidence: The highest level of proof required in a civil case—the civil equivalent of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in criminal cases.
Cross-examination: An attorney’s questioning of a witness called to testify by the other side in the case. Cross-examination questions are asked in order to check or discredit the testimony, knowledge, or credibility of the witness.
DYFS: Division of Youth and Family Services.
Defendant: The party who is sued by the plaintiff. In a termination of parental rights case, the parent is a defendant.
Default: A default can be entered against you if you fail to appear or respond to court orders or miss any court hearing or any court-ordered evaluation. If a default is entered, DYFS can ask for a proof hearing.
Deputy attorney general (DAG): The lawyer for DYFS in a termination of parental rights complaint.
Direct examination: The questions that a lawyer asks each of his or her client’s witnesses.
Discovery: The process of requesting and providing information before a trial.
Doctor-patient privilege: Special protection is given to the things you tell a doctor who treats you as a patient regularly. The same is not true for an expert doctor who evaluates you for your trial.
Foster home adoption: DYFS’ plan for a child to be adopted by his or her current caretakers.
Guardianship complaint: Another name given to the complaint filed by DYFS against the birth parents of a child or children in order to terminate their parental rights. This term refers to the fact that, if DYFS wins its case, it takes temporary legal guardianship of the child or children until they are adopted by someone else.
Identified surrender of parental rights: An agreement to end your parent-child relationship, which names a specific person to adopt the child.
General surrender of parental rights: An agreement to end your parent-child relationship, which allows DYFS to find an adoptive home.
Kinship legal guardianship: A legal alternative to termination of parental rights that is designed to be more permanent than placing a child in the custody of a relative or friend. However, it allows you to keep some parental rights to your child.
Law guardian: The lawyer who represents the child named in a termination of parental rights complaint.
Office of Parental Representation (OPR): A branch of the Office of the Public Defender that represents low-income parents who cannot afford lawyers in termination of parental rights hearings.
Open adoption: An adoption where biological parents keep the right to have some ongoing contact with their children, even after parental rights have been terminated and the children have been legally adopted. However, current New Jersey law does not permit courts to enforce open adoption agreements.
Order to show cause: A special 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.
Permanency hearing: A hearing at which DYFS presents to the court its permanency plan for the child.
Plaintiff: The party who begins a civil lawsuit by filing a complaint. DYFS is the plaintiff in a termination of parental rights action against a parent.
Proof hearing: If a default is entered, DYFS can ask for a proof hearing. DYFS will still have to prove all of the facts the law requires for termination of parental rights, and your lawyer will be allowed to cross-examine the witnesses presented by DYFS or the law guardian.
Return date: The date on which you must return to court.
Select home adoption: DYFS’ plan to find others to adopt your child.
Vacate: The process of undoing a default judgment that has been entered against you is called vacating a judgment. To do this, you must file papers explaining your reason for not going to a court hearing or evaluation and asking the judge to vacate the default. If your default is vacated, your right to a complete trial will be given back to you.
Voluntary placement agreement: An agreement signed by parents to voluntarily place their child with DYFS.
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Copyright © 2011 Legal Services of New Jersey
This information last reviewed 10/28/11