Somerset County Guardianship Attorneys
DCP&P Lawyers in Somerville, New Jersey
The third prong that DCP&P must prove by clear and convincing evidence at a termination of parental rights trial is that 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. The DCP&P defense lawyers at the Tormey Law Firm LLC are ready and able to fight to protect your parental rights at a guardianship trial. In fact, one of our attorneys, Brent DiMarco, has handled a number of guardianship trials while working for several of the largest DCP&P defense firms in NJ. Now, he uses his expertise and experience to defend our clients dealing with an allegation of abuse or neglect. Protect your rights, your family, and your future: contact our experienced DCP&P defense lawyers today for immediate assistance at (908)-356-6900. The initial consultation is always provided free of charge. We represent clients dealing with DCP&P investigations throughout Somerset County including in Basking Ridge, Bernardsville, Bedminster, and Hillsborough.
Guardianship Trial – Prong 3 N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a)(3) – Reasonable Efforts
The third prong that DCP&P must prove by clear and convincing evidence at a termination of parental rights trial is that 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. Unlike the first and second prongs of the best interests test, New Jersey Statute defines “reasonable efforts” under the third prong of the best interests standard as the following: attempts by an agency authorized by the Division to assist the parents in remedying the circumstances and conditions that led to the placement of the child and in reinforcing the family structure, including, but not limited to: (1) consultations and cooperation with the parent in developing a plan for appropriate services; (2) providing services that be been agreed upon, to the family, in order to further the goal of family reunification; (3) informing the parent at appropriate intervals of the child’s progress, development and health; and (4) facilitating appropriate visitation. N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(c). In addition to the statutory guidelines, the Appellate Division and Supreme Court have also provided guidance in analyzing what constitutes “reasonable efforts.” If DCP&P has filed a Guardianship Complaint against you and is seeking to terminate your parental rights, you should contact a DCP&P defense attorney who is familiar with the statutes and case law related to the third prong of the best interests test.
Under the third prong of the best interests test, Courts must determine whether or not DCP&P made “reasonable efforts to provide services to help the parent correct the circumstances that necessitated removal and placement of the child.” N.J. Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. L.J.D., 428 N.J. Super. 451 (App. Div. 2012). Importantly, the trial court must evaluate on a fact-sensitive and individual basis the efforts that the Division took to reunify the family. In re Guardianship of D.M.H., 161 N.J. 365 (1999). In other words, there is not an automatic list of prescribed services that a parent must complete in order to be reunified with their child but, rather, the Division must tailor the services on a case-by-case basis that have a realistic potential to assist the family and parent’s individual needs. N.J. Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. L.J.D., 428 N.J. Super. 451 (App. Div. 2012). Usually, during protective services litigation – before a guardianship complaint is even filed – the Division will seek to have parents submit to a psychological evaluation to determine what services, if any, would benefit the parent and improve their ability to safely and appropriately parent. Often times, those services include parenting skills classes, substance abuse treatment, individual and/or family therapy, or anger management. But, in some cases, one particular service may serve no purpose and really just be a burden on a parent. For example, if a parent has no history of substance use then the Division should not require that parent to attend substance abuse counseling. Importantly, DCP&P’s “services are not measured by their success.” N.J. Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. A.R., 405 N.J. Super. 418 (App. Div. 2009). That is, if a parent is still not able to safely and appropriately parent a child after attending services or marginally complying with services, the fact that the services have not been effective is not sufficient to deem the Division’s efforts unreasonable.
The “reasonable efforts” prong of the best interests test not only requires that the Division provide services to the family but also that the Court consider alternatives to termination of parental rights. New Jersey Statute requires as part of DCP&P’s reasonable efforts that the Division assess whether or not there are any available relatives who can care for the child. N.J.S.A. 30:4C-12.1; In re Guardianship of K.H.O., 161 N.J. 337 (1999). However, although DCP&P policy is to place children with relatives when possible, there is no presumption that placement with a relative over a non-related third party is more favorable. N.J. Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. F.H., 389 N.J. Super. 576 (App. Div. 2007). In addition to assessing relatives, the Division must also discuss with the child’s caretaker, related or not, the differences between Kinship Legal Guardianship (KLG) and Adoption to determine the caretaker’s intentions. In fact, KLG is not a viable alternative to termination of parental rights when the caretaker is willing to adopt because a desire to adopt obviates consideration of KLG as a matter of law. N.J. Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. T.I., 423 N.J. Super. 127 (App. Div. 2011).
I need a lawyer for a Guardianship hearing in NJ – Contact us Today
The “reasonable efforts” prong of the termination of parental rights inquiry depends significantly on a detailed analysis of a parent’s history with DCP&P and how the Division worked with the parent. Every case is different and if you are involved in guardianship litigation and the Division is seeking to terminate your parental rights, you should contact a seasoned DCP&P defense attorney who is familiar with the legal requirements that DCP&P must follow and the services that the Division can offer to a parent before the Court can terminate your parental rights.