Guardianship Trials Prong Four – Less Harm Than Good

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The fourth prong that DCP&P must prove by clear and convincing evidence at a termination of parental rights trial is that termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good. The Judge will consider this prong as well as the other prongs to determine whether or not your parental rights should be terminated. The DYFS defense lawyers at the Tormey Law Firm LLC are ready and able to assist you in dealing with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (known as “DCP&P”) in New Jersey. Protect your rights, your family, and your future: contact our experienced DCPP defense lawyers today for immediate assistance at (908)-356-6900. One of our attorneys, Brent DiMarco, worked for two of the largest DYFS defense firms in New Jersey before joining the Tormey Law Firm in 2018 to run our DCP&P defense practice.

The initial consultation is always provided free of charge. We represent clients dealing with DYFS investigations throughout Union County NJ including Westfield, Berkeley Heights, New Providence, and Summit.

Here is an example where we successfully represented a client on a DCP&P case in Union County NJ and the case was closed.

Guardianship Trial – Prong 4 N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.1(a)(4) – Less Harm than Good

Like the first and second prongs of the best interests test, the termination of parental rights statute does not specifically define automatic circumstances in which the Court must find termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good. Rather, the Appellate Division and New Jersey Supreme Court have analyzed a multitude of cases that provide guidance and an analytical framework for the trial courts. In most circumstances, DCP&P will present psychologists to provide the trial court with expert testimony in the areas of psychology and bonding as they relate to whether or not termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good. If you are currently involved with guardianship litigation and the Division is petitioning the court to terminate your parental rights, you should contact an attorney who is familiar with the fourth prong of the best interests test and who has also tried guardianship cases before and has been in the courtroom while psychologists have testified regarding psychology and bonding.

Under the fourth prong, the question “is not whether a biological mother or father is a worthy parent, but whether a child’s interest will be best served by completely terminating the child’s relationship with the parent.” N.J. Div. of Youth and Family Servs. v. E.P., 196 N.J. 88 (2008). Because the overriding consideration of the fourth prong is a child’s need for a permanent and stable home and a well-defined parent-child relationship, but not necessarily with a biological parent, the trial court must determine “whether, after considering and balancing the two relationships, the child will suffer a greater harm from termination of ties with [the] natural parents than from the permanent disruption of [the] relationship with [the] foster parents.” In re Guardianship of J.C., 129 N.J. 1 (1992). Accordingly, a trial court’s evaluation of the fourth prong should be informed by not only the child’s need for stability but also by the quality of the child’s relationship with the biological parents and resource parents as assessed by a “well qualified expert who had a full opportunity to make a comprehensive, objective, and informed evaluation” of those relationships. J.C., supra. 129 N.J. at 19.

Generally speaking, the fourth prong of the best interests standard is a catchall category. The key language in the fourth prong is that termination “not do more harm” than good. In other words, the Court may terminate a biological parent’s rights even when severing that relationship with the child will do some harm to the child as long as that harm is outweighed by the good of being in a stable and permanent home with the resource parent. For example, if a child will suffer some harm from losing ties with the biological parent but that child has a healthy attachment to the resource parent that will serve to mitigate the harm of termination of parental rights, then the Court may find that termination of parental rights will not do more harm than good.

Union County DYFS Defense Lawyers Available Now

The fourth prong of the best interests test, along with the first, second, and third prongs, requires a nuanced and fact-sensitive analysis based upon voluminous documents, expert reports, and expert testimony from psychologists. If you are involved in DCP&P litigation as a defendant in guardianship litigation and the Division is seeking to terminate your parental rights, you should consult with an experienced DCP&P defense attorney who has handled termination of parental rights proceedings and who is familiar with the case law and statutes that apply to the fourth prong of the best interests standard. Contact our offices anytime for immediate assistance at (908)-356-6900.

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