Sibling Visitation in Foster Care & Adoption Cases
When siblings are placed in different homes in New Jersey, they generally have options and avenues for visiting each other.
When people think of foster care in New Jersey, they may picture a single child awaiting adoption by a family and/or placement in a permanent home. But the reality is that the majority of children in foster care actually have at least one sibling who is also in the foster care system. This can become a problem when one of the kids is adopted or placed in a home, but their brother or sister is not placed in the same home. The result, of course, is that the siblings are then separated from each other, which can lead to estrangement and have a devastating effect on their relationship and their well-being. That’s why NJ law protects siblings in foster care and provides an avenue for ensuring that they maintain contact even after separation, primarily through visitation. To learn more about sibling visitation in foster care and when one child undergoes adoption, keep reading. And if you would like to speak with one of our New Jersey lawyers about sibling visitation in a DCPP case, please contact us for a free consultation.
What Are the Visitation Rights of Siblings in NJ?
The relationship between siblings is extremely important for their development, particularly when the children are no longer with their birth parents. Regrettably, siblings often get separated in foster care because it’s simply not possible to keep them together in every case. The unfortunate reality is that a lot of people who wish to adopt a child simply aren’t in a position to adopt multiple children, which means that siblings will inevitably be separated in a lot of adoptions.
The good news for siblings who are separated is that they do have a legal right to continue visiting each other in most situations. In fact, the New Jersey Supreme Court has held that a child should be allowed to contact their sibling after an adoption. NJ law even goes a bit further, specifically providing for visitation rights for siblings when one is adopted and the other is not, when they are in separate foster homes, or when they are otherwise separated after intervention by the Department of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP).
However, visitation rights are not always granted by the court. As set forth by N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1, the sibling petitioning the court for visitation rights must show that allowing visitation would be in the best interests of the other child. What exactly constitutes “the best interests of the child”? When answering this question and determining whether an application for visitation should be granted, the court will consider a number of different factors, including the following:
- The relationship between the siblings. If the siblings do not have a good relationship, or if one of them does not want to see the other, the court is likely to give this significant weight and could deny the application for visitation.
- The relationship between the applicant-child and the adults responsible for the other child, including how granting visitation might impact the relationship between the adult guardians and the child. Importantly, even if the adoptive parents object to continued contact between the siblings, that factor alone is not necessarily enough for the court to deny the application.
- The amount of time that has gone by since the siblings last communicated with each other, which is related to whether the siblings will benefit from continued contact.
DCPP Rules on Sibling Visitation
The New Jersey Department of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) has strict rules about sibling visitation when siblings have been separated by the foster care system. These same rules also apply to visitation between a child and any other member of their family, such as their birth parents or grandparents. In accordance with state policy, the DCPP, the siblings, and the foster parents are all part of a planning process that determines the following:
- How often the siblings can visit
- How long those visits should last for
- Where the visits will occur
- When those visits will occur
- Who will be allowed to participate in the visits
- How any minor children participating in the visits will be transported to the location
- Whether the visits will be supervised by the DCPP
As a general rule, frequent visits are encouraged because they can help to promote stability for the child, and longer visits are encouraged because they give the state a better opportunity to evaluate and assess the situation. By default, weekly visits are granted under state policy. Although the decision about visitation frequency and length is ultimately made by the DCPP, the agency receives input from professional social workers, the siblings, and other family members impacted by the visitation plan. In most cases, the DCPP and all affected parties will come together for a Family Team Meeting. Once the DCPP has gone through the process and set the conditions of visitation, a written visitation plan is created. If visitation is not granted, the reason for the rejection must be stated. The visitation plan typically remains in place until and unless a court intervenes to alter the terms of visitation.
What Is the Process for Seeking Sibling Visitation?
The process for seeking sibling visitation can be complicated, especially since many deadlines must be met or the parties may risk losing their visitation rights. Since the law carves out a special protection for siblings who wish to visit after separation through the foster care process, court action is not necessarily needed. The first step in the process is to give notice to the DCPP and apply for visitation after the siblings have been separated. At that point, the agency and all affected parties may begin working together at a Family Team Meeting to arrive at a plan for the first visit between the siblings. This meeting may happen even before one of the children is placed with a family and separated from his or her sibling. Within just five (5) days of placement, a second plan for ongoing visits between the siblings must be provided in writing. Within 45 days of placement, the visitation plan must be adjusted by the DCPP as needed. Additionally, any further adjustments will be made every six (6) months as the DCPP and the affected parties renegotiate the terms of the visitation plan.
Secure Sibling Visitation with Help from an Experienced Lawyer serving all New Jersey Counties and Cites
Having a lawyer to help with this process is essential. For example, you may want to ensure that any visits between the siblings are unsupervised, or you may want to petition the DCPP to have the visits supervised by a Division worker. You may also want to renegotiate the terms and conditions of the visitation plan at a later date, especially if the DCPP placed restrictions that limit the number of visits allowed. The bottom line is that a lot of things can come up both during and after the planning process, which is why it is imperative that you be represented by an experienced attorney who can offer sound advice and, if necessary, fight on your behalf in court. If you would like to speak to one of our distinguished children and families lawyers today, contact us at (908)-356-6900 for immediate assistance. We offer free initial consultations and represent clients in towns and counties throughout New Jersey, such as Fort Lee, Paramus, Parsippany, Union Township, Bridgewater, Middletown, Toms River, Brick, Jersey City, and surrounding areas.