It is estimated that almost three million grandparents are raising grandchildren in the U.S. today, a number that continues to grow. Most of these living situations are informal, an arrangement within a family where birth parents may be struggling with addiction, mental illness, incarceration, or other circumstances that make raising a child impossible.
If grandparents want to formally adopt a grandchild, there are several legal steps they need to take to make it happen. The first step should be a consultation with a family law attorney experienced in adoption issues. Your attorney can provide you with the critical information you need to proceed with your adoption and guide you through what can be a confusing process.
Before any child can be adopted, the birth parents must give up their parental rights. This can be done voluntarily if there is someone else who wants to adopt and provide for the child. If a voluntary termination of parental rights is not possible, then grandparents can pursue legal action through the family court to have parental rights terminated. However, you should be aware that New Jersey courts do not treat the termination of parental rights lightly, even if a parent does not spend much time with a child. Usually, courts terminate parental rights because of abuse or neglect of a child. Since the courts make decisions based on the best interests of the child, you will need strong proof that grandparent adoption is in your grandchild’s best interest.
Once parental rights are terminated, an adoption can proceed as dictated by New Jersey law. The New Jersey Department of Child Protection & Permanency (DCPP) oversees the adoption process. Once it is finalized, the grandparents become the legal adoptive parents of the grandchild and the birth parents have no rights to visitation or custody. They are also no longer responsible for providing any financial support for their child.
Making the decision to adopt a grandchild can be an emotional journey for the whole family but may be necessary to protect the best interests of the child. Just be sure you have patience and the proper legal guidance so you can provide your grandchild with a secure future.
When you are faced with an important life decision regarding a key family relationship, the advice and assistance of an experienced family law attorney often prove crucial to your understanding of the issues involved and your satisfaction with the ultimate outcome of your family law matter. Contact us today for your free consultation.