When terminating parental rights, the court focuses on the child’s best interests


Law Lessons from N.J. Div. of Child Protection and Permanency v. G.V., App. Div., No. A-1958-14T2, February 24, 2016:

Parents have a right to raise and maintain a relationship with a child without State interference. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. E.P., 196 N.J. 88, 102 (2008). This right is protected by the United States and New Jersey Constitutions. Ibid. This right is not absolute, as it is limited by the “State’s parens patriae responsibility to protect children whose vulnerable lives or psychological well-being may have been harmed or may be seriously endangered by a neglectful or abusive parent.” N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. F.M., 211 N.J. 420, 447 (2012). The State has a strong public policy that favors placing children in a permanent, safe, and stable home. See In re Guardianship of K.H.O., 161 N.J. 337, 357 (1999).

When terminating parental rights, the court focuses on the child’s best interests. Ibid. The State must satisfy the best-interests-of-the-child test by showing all four prongs in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a) by clear and convincing evidence, in order to terminate parental rights. F.M., supra, 211 N.J. at 447-48. These four prongs require a fact-sensitive examination of the particularized evidence presented in each case. N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. M.M., 189 N.J. 261, 280 (2007).

The four prongs in N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a) are as follows:

(1) The child’s safety, health, or development has been or will continue to be endangered by the parental relationship;
(2) The parent is unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm facing the child or is unable or unwilling to provide a safe and stable home for the child and the delay of permanent placement will add to the harm. Such harm may include evidence that separating the child from his resource family parents would cause serious and enduring emotional or psychological harm to the child;
(3) The division has made reasonable efforts to provide services to help the parent correct the circumstances which led to the child’s placement outside the home and the court has considered alternatives to termination of parental rights; and
(4) Termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good.

[N.J.S.A. ยง 30:4C-15.1(a).]

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