A Thoughtful Guide to Relinquishing Parental Rights in the State of New Jersey

Sometimes life takes challenging, unexpected turns, and circumstances may arise where a parent finds themselves unsure of whether they will be able to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their child. Although parents in New Jersey are granted the fundamental constitutional right to raise their children, this right is not absolute. Child welfare laws require a delicate equilibrium between parental autonomy and the state's interest in ensuring that all children within its boundaries are free from abuse, neglect, and abandonment.

If New Jersey's child welfare laws or the parent indicate they cannot care for their child safely, parental rights can be involuntarily or voluntarily terminated. If you are considering voluntarily relinquishment of your parental rights, you should consider the process and implications that this decision can have on your family's future.

Parental Rights Laws

Parents are granted inherent parental rights to raise their children as they see fit. Article 1 Section 1 of the New Jersey Constitution provides all state citizens with certain inalienable rights, including the ability to "enjoy and defend life and liberty, acquire possess, protect, and defend property, and pursue and obtain safety and happiness." Over the years, courts have repeatedly held that parental rights fall within these protected rights.

Similarly, although the term "parental rights" is not explicitly mentioned in the United States Constitution, courts have consistently held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees parents the right to raise their children as they see fit, absent any circumstances of abuse, neglect, or abandonment.

Parental rights are broad and include the legal and moral authority to make decisions for your child's healthcare, education, religious upbringing, discipline, etc.

Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

Before considering whether to relinquish your parental rights, you should consider whether your parental rights will first be involuntarily terminated by a court. If this is the case, you cannot voluntarily relinquish your rights, and a court will enter an order that terminates your legal rights and responsibilities to your child.

New Jersey can terminate a parent's parental rights in instances of child abuse, neglect, or abandonment. The termination process is triggered by a petition filed by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency ("DCP&P"), which must later prove that a parent is 1) unable/unwilling to provide care for their child and 2) that termination of parental rights is ultimately in the child's best interests (discussed below). Under Title 9 of the New Jersey Statutes, circumstances that could later warrant involuntary termination of parental rights can include the following:

  • Severe corporal punishment or excessive physical restraints.
  • Actions that result in severe physical, mental, or emotional pain to a child.
  • Various forms of child labor
  • Performing or permitting others to perform "indecent, immoral, or unlawful" acts in the presence of a child.
  • Willfully isolating a child from society.
  • Failure to provide proper physical or moral protection.
  • Failure to provide a child with proper food, clothing, maintenance, medical care, etc.

What Is Voluntary Relinquishment and Why Do Some Parents Consider it as an Option?

Voluntary relinquishment occurs when a parent, rather than a court, determines to terminate their parental rights. Parenting is a profound responsibility with immense challenges and deeply personal struggles. At times, a parent may feel that the most responsible thing they can do is relinquish their parental rights. Some parents may be overwhelmed with parenting responsibilities and feel they cannot provide their children with the care and support they deserve.

Other personal limitations, such as mental health issues, financial hardships, housing issues, etc., can all be overwhelming and affect a parent's ability to raise their children safely. These struggles are further exacerbated when a parent lacks a sufficient support system of family, friends, or neighbors who can help with childcare, housing, or finances.

Parents may also feel they need to relinquish their rights due to substance abuse issues. Substance abuse and addiction can make it particularly challenging for parents to maintain a stable and nurturing environment during the time it takes for them to reach sobriety. Although this is a painful decision, some parents may recognize that their cycle of addiction impacts their ability to provide a safe home for their children.

Whether you are considering relinquishing your rights due to an immediate struggle or simply feeling your child will be better off if they are adopted into a new family, you should not make this decision lightly. Several federal and state resources can help you tackle whatever challenge you are facing while ensuring that your child receives temporary care. Contact our Family Law Team today for help navigating your options.

Involuntary Termination Versus Relinquishment

Involuntary termination of parental rights is not the same as voluntary relinquishment. Involuntary termination occurs when a court determines that a parent is "unfit" to care for and have custody of a child. In deciding whether involuntary termination is proper, a court will apply something called the "Best Interest Standard." Courts will also consider other factors such as a parent's track record of remedying the problems that brought them before the court, substance abuse, mental health management, criminal convictions, and sentences.

In other instances, the state is not required to attempt to reunify a child with their parents. Under N.J.S.A. §30: 4C-11.3, automatic termination of parental rights may occur where:

  • The parent has subjected the child to "aggravated circumstances of abuse, neglect, cruelty, or abandonment."
  • The parent has murder-related convictions.
  • The parent has been convicted of causing significant bodily injury to the child or another child.
  • The parent has already had their parental rights of another child involuntarily terminated.

Things To Consider Before Relinquishing Your Rights

The decision to terminate parental rights is a permanent one, and parental rights cannot be restored later down the line. If you plan on terminating your parental rights and the child does not have their other parent in their life or family members in line to assume guardianship, the child will enter the state's foster care system, where they may or may not be adopted. Although many foster care homes provide loving care and support for children, this is not always the case, and your child could be exposed to various forms of abuse.

If your child is adopted, their adoptive parents will resume all legal rights and responsibilities over them, including the ability to change their name. Although adoptive parents may inform you that they plan to allow you to visit with your child, post-adoption visitation agreements in New Jersey are not enforceable.

Fortunately, under a newly enacted law known as the Birth Records Law, the New Jersey Department of Children And Families maintains an "Adoption Registry" that contains the contact information of biological parents who placed their child up for adoption. Under this law, an adopted adult can access their birth parents' contact information on or after their 18th birthday.

If you picture yourself having a relationship with your child as they age, you should consider what effect terminating your rights will have on your child's willingness to do the same. Relinquishing parental rights may mean severing not only legal ties but personal ones as well.

Alternatives to Relinquishment

In addition to our compassionate Family Law Team, Social workers, therapists, counselors, religious leaders, etc., can all help you explore your options before you make any final decisions. There are also various resources under federal law, the Family First Prevention Services Act, which provides funding for things like parenting classes, counseling, substance abuse treatment, etc.

Although family courts actively work to reunify children with their biological parents, Federal law recognizes that children need stability and consistency throughout their youth to develop into functioning, healthy members of society. A federal law known as the Adoption and Safe Families Act sets a maximum time limit for children to remain in foster care without identifying a more permanent plan. Although some exceptions exist, if children have been in foster care for at least 15 of the last 22 months, a state's child welfare agency must petition the court to terminate parental rights so another family will be legally free to adopt them.

If you wish to have a say about where your child will reside if you cannot continue to care for them, consider the following options before the state is obligated to search for a permanent plan for them.

Identified Surrender

An "Identified Surrender" is a specific type of voluntary decision made by a parent or guardian. An Identified Surrender happens when the parent or guardian knows and agrees to have someone they trust, like a family member or a close friend, become the child's legal parent. It's important to note that the relative or family member must pass a thorough home inspection and background check and meet other state requirements to become a licensed resource parent.


Guardianship is different from identified surrender because guardianship does not require the parent to identify a specific guardian that the parent has in mind to assume care of their child. Guardianship is only considered if a court determines that adoption is not practical or achievable. A judge may reach this decision due to a child's age, mental health care needs, willingness to be adopted, etc. Although adoption is always the goal for children whose parents have lost parental rights, guardianship is still legally permanent, and a legal guardian is legally bound to raise a child until they turn 18 years old. Unlike adoption, biological parents may later petition a Family Court for custody of their child and have visitation rights under a guardianship visitation agreement.

Safe Haven Protection Act

The New Jersey Safe Haven Protection Act, also known as the New Jersey Safe Haven Infant Protection Act, is a state law designed to protect newborn babies from being abandoned and to ensure their safety and well-being. The act allows parents or guardians to safely surrender an unharmed infant, up to 30 days old, at designated haven locations without fear of criminal prosecution or repercussions. The act also ensures that parents or guardians who surrender an infant at a haven location can do so confidentially and without having to provide their names or personal information.

Best Interest Evaluation

New Jersey courts apply a "best interest standard" when determining whether to grant a petition for involuntary or voluntary termination of parental rights. Some considerations within the state's best interest standard are contained within New Jersey Revised Statutes §30: 4C-15 and summarized below:

  • Whether the child's safety, health, or development has been or will continue to be endangered by the parental relationship.
  • Whether the parent is unwilling or unable to eliminate the harm facing the child, such as substance abuse or mental health issues.
  • Whether the child welfare division has made "reasonable efforts" to provide services to help the parent correct the circumstances that led to the removal and also considered alternatives to termination of parental rights.

Will Relinquishing Parental Rights Mean I Don't Have to Pay Child Support?

Not necessarily. In New Jersey, a biological parent who has already terminated their parental rights may be required to pay child support until another person assumes responsibility for the child through guardianship or adoption. In other words, although you may relinquish all legal rights and other responsibilities as a parent, this may not absolve you of your financial responsibility to support your child.

New Jersey Parental Rights Attorney

Parental rights are arguably the most vital part of shaping a child's life. It is not a sign of failure if you contemplate relinquishing your parental rights. Parents who voluntarily surrender their rights often do so because they are profoundly responsible and want the best for their children. Our Family Law Team approaches each parental rights case with compassion and understanding. We provide a non-judgmental environment and aim to support parents through challenging times by helping them make informed decisions. Contact us today at (888) 535-3686 or our online contact form.

Contact a Family Law Attorney Today!

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience practicing Family Law in New Jersey. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you and your family, contact our offices today. Family Law Attorney Joseph Lento will go above and beyond the needs for any client and fight for what is fair.

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