Adoption marks what should be the beginning of an exciting journey for any family, but oftentimes the process to a successful adoption can be very confusing. While it is an opportunity for a new family dynamic, it is also a complicated legal proceeding that should be approached seriously by biological birth parents and adoptive parents alike. New Jersey’s Title 9 is the law that governs the procedure for adoption, which must be followed to ensure that adults’ and child’s rights are preserved and protected.
It begins with the decision by the biological birth parents to choose adoption for their child. Many states have a mandatory waiting period before a parent can surrender his or her parental rights over a child. In New Jersey, the waiting period depends on whether the adoption takes place by (i) a private or independent adoption or (ii) through an agency. In a private adoption, a birth parent can sign consent documents to surrender his or her rights any time after the child is born. This consent may be revoked by the birth parent at any time before the court officially terminates parental rights. In an agency adoption, a birth parent must wait at least 72 hours after the birth of the child before he or she can sign any consent documents.
The next step is for the child to be placed in the adoptive home and for the adoptive parents to file a petition for adoption, known in New Jersey as a “complaint for adoption.” The filing of the complaint should either be in the county of residence of the adoption agency or of the child’s birth if the child is less than 3 months old. The timing of the filing depends on whether the adoption is private or through an agency. In a private adoption, the filing needs to be done within 45 days of receiving the child. Two or three months later, a preliminary hearing is held before a judge. Following supervisory visits by a court-approved agency, a final hearing is held to complete the process. In an agency adoption, the child generally must have resided with the adoptive parents for at least 6 months before a complaint can be filed. Afterwards, a final hearing will be held. Some adoptions involving an agency allow for an early complaint before 6 months to be filed, and the New Jersey court may then require an additional hearing before the final hearing.
New Jersey requires adoptive parents to be present at the filing of the complaint for adoption. Adoptive children under the age of 10 are not required to attend these hearings, but most judges are delighted to see children in court for such happy occasions and will even take pictures with the families.
After the final hearing, adoptive parents will receive amended birth certificates from the State of New Jersey. At this point, the adoptive family can celebrate the legal adoption of their new child as the process, in the eyes of the law, is complete. Any arrangements for contact between the biological birth parents and the adoptive parents after adoption is truly unique to each situation and parents’ and children’s wants. Some families choose to maintain a robust visitation schedule throughout the child’s life, while others choose to do so only for a period of time.
Other families choose to have more minimal contact between parties. These situations are governed by the mutual agreement of parties, and not by law. Even if a contract is made for biological parents to maintain contact after adoption, such a contract cannot be enforced under New Jersey law.
An adoption is an important legal proceeding involving the termination of the parental rights of birth parents and the assumption of these rights by adoptive parents. It is important to understand the legal mechanics and adoption practices in New Jersey before adopting a child in New Jersey. Each state has its own nuances to the process, and New Jersey is no different. Consultation with a legal representative specializing in adoptions in New Jersey is a critical first step to a successful adoption in New Jersey. Angela Yu is a New Jersey and New York attorney with a multifaceted practice area focusing in corporate, real estate and general contract law. She uses her interest in real life application of the law to author articles and other scholarship on a broad range of cutting-edge legal and business topics. Ms. Yu is a published legal author and holds a J.D. and M.B.A. from Rutgers School of Law and Rutgers Business School. Neither she nor Mike Farhi provides legal advice on this website. This blog post and any blog posts do not constitute legal advice.