The Superior Court of New Jersey ruled on a heartbreaking and frustrating guardianship case last week. The parent in question has given birth to 4 children in her young life and was fighting for her parental rights regarding her third and fourth children.
This most recent battle over guardianship occurred in a court of appeals. The mother argued that a previous court mistakenly terminated her parental rights to her third child. That same court had granted her rights to the fourth as long as she followed the stipulated guidelines that made those rights available to her, including participation in a Drug Court program and continued sobriety.
The mother of 4 has a long record of drug use and criminal activity: heroin, cocaine and marijuana use; multiple convictions of burglary, theft, use of stolen credit card, violating probation and forgery. She has also failed to comply with court-ordered drug treatment on various occasions.
Due to her earlier drug use, the custody of her first 2 children was taken away and awarded to other family members prior to the 2009 battle over the custody of children three and four. The case consisted of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services arguing against the mother regaining custody of the children due to her long history of addiction, drug use, illegal activity and non-compliance with court-ordered treatment programs.
The judge in that case ruled that the mother lose custody of child three but not child four. The difference in rulings resulted from the judge's opinion that since child four had not lived with his mother after being born, then he had not been subjected to the harm that moving from home to home has done to the other children.
Also, the judge believed that even though rehabilitative efforts had been offered to the mother in the past, such attempts to help her be a fit mother for child four specifically were never made. The judge ruled not to terminate her parental rights to child four due to his confidence in the Drug Court program and its possibility to help rehabilitate the mother and keep her with her child.
On May 12, the Superior Court of New Jersey disagreed with these opinions and therefore rejected the ruling that child four not be placed in a permanent home as soon as possible. The court looked at efforts to rehabilitate the mother in the past as a whole and not how such attempts related to the time of each child's birth. They saw a pattern of the mother's failure to comply with any help offered and ruled that child four should not have to wait in the foster system on the unlikely chance that his mother might turn her life around. That waiting, the court argued, is harmful to a child.
The guardianship of child four, therefore, was awarded to the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services until a suitable home is found.