Criteria and Process for Adoptive Parents in NJ
Know the Steps and Requirements Involved for Adoption in New Jersey
One of the best feelings in the world is to know that you are providing a home and a loving, supportive environment to a child who might otherwise be deprived of those things. This is one reason that so many people go through the adoption process in New Jersey. If you are thinking about adopting a child and making them a permanent member of your family, you may have a lot of questions about what steps are involved and exactly what you will need to do. The truth is that there are likely to be a lot of hurdles you must clear in order to be approved for adoption, which is why an experienced lawyer can be a valuable assistant as you go through the application process.
Adoption in Typical Cases
A typical adoption case will involve the prospective parents either going through an adoption agency that is licensed by the state or adopting directly from the child’s birth parents, but in either case this is just the beginning of the process. For anyone looking to adopt in New Jersey, the sheer number of rules and guidelines can seem a bit overwhelming.
Qualifying for Adoption in New Jersey
In order to qualify for adoption, you must be a legal adult who is 18 years of age, and you must be at least 10 years older than the child you will be adopting. Since a lot of adoptions are made by married couples, NJ law makes it a little easier in these situations by allowing the couple to adopt jointly.
Requirements Regarding Adoption Payments & Expenses
There are strict rules governing the amount of money that can be paid by the adoptive family in a private adoption. These rules exist so that the adoption process isn’t contaminated by a family who is simply attempting to buy a child from its birth parents, which would potentially cross the line separating adoption from human trafficking. For example, when it comes to things like food, clothing, and medical expenses for a birth mother going through pregnancy with the child who is going to be adopted, the adoptive parents are not allowed to pay anything more than “reasonable living expenses.” Additionally, these expenses can only be paid during the pregnancy and then for up to four (4) weeks after the child’s birth.
New Jersey law requires adoptive parents to submit a written report of all expenses that have been paid to the birth mother, the adoption agency, and anyone else associated with the adoption. In addition to detailed information about the amounts paid, this report must also include contact information for everyone who received payments in the form of cash, property, or anything else that has value.
NJ Home Study Process for Adoption
Anyone looking to adopt in New Jersey must also go through something known as “home study,” which is where a licensed adoption agency is able to take a close look at the prospective parents and make sure that they will be able to properly care for the child. This is kind of like an audition in which the agency attempts to learn as much as possible about the adoptive family through interviews, home visits, and review of references in support of the family. Unless the agency signs off on the adoption, the state will not approve it either. It is important to understand that even in a private adoption directly from the biological parents, a licensed agency will still need to be enlisted to oversee the home study process.
Before the adoption can be finalized, the parents must go through this process. Home study starts with a series of interviews of the parents and anyone else who is going to live in the household. There will also be background checks on the parents, which includes fingerprinting for any possible criminal history, job references, and personal references. Additionally, the parents will be subject to review and evaluation of their capacity to raise a child, their ability to provide an emotionally stable environment for the child, their medical records, information about any previous marriages they had, and their financial records. The adoption agency will also conduct multiple visits to the home before rendering a decision about whether to place the child with the parents.
Placement Times Vary based on the Type of Adoption
Once the child has been officially placed, the parents must file what is known as a “complaint for adoption” with the Family Court located in either the county where they live or the county where the adoption agency handling the adoption is located. For private adoptions, the parents must file with the court within 45 days of the child being placed in their home. Around six (6) months later, there will be a hearing at which the court either accepts or rejects the adoption and enters a judgment of adoption. For adoptions through an agency, the parents must wait at least (6) months before they can file with the court, and a hearing will then be scheduled within one (1) month of the filing. As with private adoptions, the court will then decide whether to make the adoption final.
Additionally, after the child is placed in the home, the adoption agency will continue to monitor the adoption as part of the home study process to ensure that the child is adjusting sufficiently and that the parents are doing what is needed to care for the child. This will include another home visit within two (2) weeks of placement, as well as bimonthly visits for young children under the age of five (5) or monthly visits for older children.
Adoption by Family Members
Sometimes, an individual or a couple looks to adopt a family member. Under New Jersey law, you may be allowed to do this if you are the child’s birth father or stepparent. You may also be able to adopt a family member if you are the child’s grandparent, brother, sister, uncle, or aunt. In some cases, there are less stringent requirements for adoption by family members. For example, while a stepparent who plans to formally apply for adoption of their spouse’s child will still be subject to a criminal background check, the same criminal check will not be required for anyone else who lives in the house and is related by blood to the child’s birth parent.
Adoption in DCPP Cases
The NJ Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) places children with adoptive families. It is important to understand that these are often children who have been abandoned, neglected, or abused, so they may have particular needs that you will have to show you are capable of meeting. If you are looking to adopt through the DCPP, the process will usually begin with what is known as an engagement meeting. At this meeting, a family recruiter from your local DCPP office will provide you with answers to your questions and specific information about what will happen if you wish to move forward with adoption. You will then file an application with DCPP. Your application for adoption will receive a preliminary review by the agency’s Resource Family Supervisor, and the agency will also conduct a thorough background check to ensure that your home is suitable for adoption.
Home Studies in DCPP Adoptions
Assuming you pass the preliminary review and the background check, DCPP would then begin their version of “home study.” The home study process can be more onerous in this context than in a typical adoption scenario. For instance, the family will be required to participate in training on things like how to raise adopted children and how to better understand what children placed for adoption by DCPP have gone through. Another important part of the DCPP home study process involves the family being approved for a license by the Office of Licensing (OOL). At the end of home study, the DCPP will forward a completed report to OOL, which will then decide whether to approve the family for a license. Without a license issued by OOL, the family will not be allowed to adopt.
Once the family has been approved by DCPP and issued a license by OOL, they will then have to wait for a child to become available. The amount of time that the family must wait can vary. Sometimes, a preliminary match occurs right away because the adoptive family is deemed suitable for children with special needs and particular backgrounds; other times, a match takes longer because certain children have unique medical histories, personalities, etc. There will be pre-placement interviews with DCPP, as well as visits by the child under the supervision of a caseworker to ensure that the child will be able to adjust to their new family and their new home.
Timeframe for Adoption through DCPP
After the child is officially placed in the home, there is a probationary period of sorts: a DCPP caseworker will continue to visit the home regularly to monitor the placement and to provide support to both the child and the family. This supervisory period will last for at least six (6) months before DCPP can formally consent to the adoption with a written recommendation submitted at a final hearing. The final step occurs when a Family Court judge signs off on the adoption and the state issues an amended birth certificate for the child.
An Experienced Member of Our Team is Here to Answer Your DCPP Adoption Questions in NJ
Adoption is a life-changing decision for all the ones involved in the process, and every detail should be set on the table to help you make a well-informed decision. If you are considering adoption in New Jersey, it is crucial to count on experienced legal assistance throughout the complicated phases and intimidating moments in the process. At our conveniently located offices throughout New Jersey, such as Bergen County, Essex County, and Middlesex County, we assist parents with adoptions involving the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP). Our lawyers will take the time to explain all you need to know before moving forward with your case, whether it involves a child being adopted, challenging the termination of your parental rights, or facilitating adoption or kinship legal guardianship of a loved one’s child after the state intervened. Call (908)-356-6900 or contact us online for a confidential consultation free of charge.