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Surrendering custody of your child to the state

It may be tempting to surrender custody of a child with disabilities to local county services if you're a parent who's feeling overwhelmed by that child's care. New Jersey family law attorneys caution, however, that it may be difficult to get child custody back when you feel better able to deal with the situation.

In 2007, a Camden, New Jersey hospital worker surrendered custody of her disabled nine-year-old twin daughters to the state's Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) after determining their psychological problems were too much for her to handle on her own. The woman was hoping her daughters could be placed in a situation where they would receive intensive counseling and necessary medical services. She never intended to give up permanent custody

DYFS - under its new name, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) - placed the girls in a residential facility, but they also moved to assume custody of the children under two provisions of New Jersey's child protection legislation. Title 9 allows the state to assume custody of minors in situations that involve parental abuse and/or neglect. Title 12 allows the state to assume custody in situations where it is in the child's best interest because the parent clearly cannot provide for the child's best welfare.

A judge subsequently upheld DCPP's assumption of custody under both Title 9 and Title 12. Title 12 was relevant, the court found, because the girls' mother was unable to prevent her daughters from hurting others or hurting themselves. Despite the fact that the court upheld Title 9, however, there were no findings of abuse or neglect. An appellate court subsequently upheld the trial judge's rulings on both Title 9 and Title 12 cause.

On June 19, 2013, however, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that DCPP had acted improperly in seeking custody under Title 9. The Supreme Court did rule though that the agency had intervened in the children's best interests when it assumed custody under Title 12. If you are considering surrendering temporary custody of your children, speak with an experienced family attorney first to explore all the ramifications.

Source: Courier-Post, "N.J. Supreme Court clarifies custody provision", June 16, 2013

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